Some Kind of Wonderful (Part 3)
Comics Retcon Universe 009
Some Kind of Wonderful
Charlie Sandsmark and his mother, Helena, travel around the world from one archaeological dig to another, looking for evidence of the ancient Amazonian culture. So far they have found nothing, until Charlie discovers something wonderful about himself on a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Author's Note: Here's Part Three of a brand new Retcon. I started to develop an interesting concept for what I thought was going to be a Wonder Woman story but as I started looking for ways to make her a believable teenager, I came upon Cassandra Sandsmark. A lightbulb went off in my head. I'd like to thank djkauf for the lightning quick editing and DC Comics for the use of their wonderful characters.
They weren’t kidding.
As soon as Charis was done talking to whoever was on the phone, she pushed a little button underneath her desk and there was a buzz. A door to her left clicked open and I guess that was our cue. Artemis led our little group, Akila followed and Persephone took up the rear. As soon as we passed through the door, I half expected to walk into another room decked out in tacky Greek décor. But this new room actually looked like a fitness club. You know those commercials you always see on TV with an area for aerobics in one corner of the room and the rest of it set up with exercise equipment. Well, that’s exactly what I was seeing here. There were a lot of people in here too, all of them women, I noticed. All of them also seemed to be no older than twenty something.
Artemis led the way through the room. A lot of the girls stopped what they were doing when she passed and nodded. It almost seemed like she held some kind of authority here. I tried to look around without being too awkward but it was hard not to. This place seemed pretty hardcore and exclusive. None of the girls we passed looked to be dainty lightweights. Not only that, there wasn’t a single ounce of flab in the group. I knew a lot of those commercials were misleading and only showed the beautiful people---usually paid actors---to drag in the business. But this place was the real deal. All of the girls working out here looked like they stepped out of lingerie catalogs.
It was kinda freaky actually.
“What the hell is this place?” I asked, looking left and right, wondering when the funky 80’s workout music was going to start playing.
“This is our exercise room,” said Artemis, sounding like a cruise director. She pointed to a few places. “Over there is where we do aerobics and through that door there is the locker rooms.”
But we didn’t stop. Instead, she kept walking and the others kept following. She led us toward an elevator that was sorta hidden between two tall potted plants. You wouldn’t really notice it unless you were looking for it. I looked behind us; none of the girls working out seemed to notice it. In fact, they didn’t even seem to acknowledge us much, except for a few nods here and there. It was kinda creepy. But not as creepy as when Artemis took a chain with a key from around her neck and actually unlocked the elevator. I mean it was a fricken health spa, why did they need a key for the elevator. She smirked when she saw my look.
She pushed the button, opening the elevator door and the four of us got inside.
“Am I missing something here?” I asked as the door started closing.
No one said anything until the elevator starting moving. Except it wasn’t going up like I thought it might, it was actually going down.
“What you see out there is a front,” said Artemis as an explanation. “We an exclusive, members only health club, spa and fitness center. It’s all very legit.”
I nodded. “But it’s fake?”
Artemis smiled. “It’s quite real. All of our members are young women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one. They’re all good girls. They’re strong, fast, and agile but most of them never get past where they are right now. Only a select few get to step into this elevator.”
“And where are we going exactly?”
“To the real Bana-Mighdall, of course.”
It took several minutes for the elevator to continue its downward descent. That freaked me out more than anything. I’m not a big fan of elevators. I hate that everything is so cramped and that the only thing that’s holding you up is little cables. I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated and sophisticated than that but it still freaked me out a bit. When we were ten, Connor and I got to go to the Sears Tower with my grandfather. I was perfectly happy with being on the ground floor, doing whatever down there. But Connor insisted we ride the elevator as high as we could go. I tried to talk my grandfather out of it.
He knew I was terrified but he was the kinda guy who said, “You should face fear head on so that way you know where it is.” Riding in the elevator then scared the hell out of me but I did it.
Now it was just as freaky. Instead of going up, we were going down. It was taking a long time to do it to. Too long, as far as I was concerned. Finally, the elevator stopped and the doors opened.
I don’t know what I was expecting but it was definitely not what I saw. The room before me was large, larger than anything I thought might be possible. It was also a strange amalgam of two different places: a combination between some kind of temple and a dojo. The floor was padded, the walls were solid hardwood. The focal point of the room was a stage of some kind with a dais, which stood in front of a large marble statue of an unrecognizable woman. She was decked out in Greek garb but she was none of the characters that I knew. In front of the dais was about twelve girls, all wearing white shift dresses, in some the middle of some kind of prayer.
I looked around, there was no priestess. I turned to ask Artemis a question but she put a finger to her mouth, shushing me. Apparently, we weren’t allowed to speak here. She pointed to the left, where I saw a door. There was an identical one on the other side of the room. Artemis led the way, while Persephone and Akila turned and went for the other door. I watched them as they slowly walked over to it and disappeared through it. Then we got to our door, Artemis opened it for me and ushered me inside. It opened onto a long narrow hallway, dimly lit by wall sconces every ten feet or so.
“Sorry about that” she said with an apologetic smile. “We’re not allowed to talk while prayer is in session.”
She nodded. “Every time that a Sister comes down here we must spend an hour in prayer to Our Patron.”
I nodded. These girls weren’t Amazons; they were some kind of nutty cult. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I smiled as fake as I could.
“Why aren’t you in prayer then?” I asked as she led me down the hall.
“I have to show you to Antiope’s office first, then I’ll join the others.”
Fortunately, we didn’t have very far to go. Antiope’s office was only a few doors down from the door we came through. Artemis stopped in front of it and knocked. There was a click and then she nodded. I smiled at her; she smiled back and then turned and walked away. I took a deep breath and opened the door. I’m not sure what I was expecting on the other side of the door and was surprised at how normal everything looked. Ok, normal might have been pushing it a little but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting in a place like this. It had all the normal office stuff: a desk, a bookshelf crammed with books, a couple comfortable velvet backed chairs. The things that made it different than other offices were the other furnishings. In one corner was a marble bust, the head of some random Goddess I was unfamiliar with. Behind the desk was a large tapestry, depicting a battle scene with woman in loincloths fighting armored women.
At the desk was a woman that could have been anyone from off the street. She had long blonde hair, a welcoming smile, and was dressed like a normal person. I say normal because it wasn’t one of those crazy white dresses that the others were wearing.
“You must be Cassandra,” She said, I nodded. “We’ve been expecting you.”
That sent a shiver down my spine. Were they in communication with Hera? I mean how crazy is it that I go back to Chicago and there’s a secret sect of Amazons who just happen to live in the city. There are such things as coincidence and this wasn’t one of those times.
“You have?” I asked, trying to see what this woman knew.
She smiled. “Of course. Ever since Artemis told me of your prowess on the track field the other day I just knew you were destined to be one of us.”
I nodded. What the hell did I just get myself in to?
“Why don’t you take a seat?” she said, pointing to one of the chairs. “And you and I can talk for a bit.”
I reluctantly took a seat, looking around the room. A lot of the books on the shelves were about Greek Myths and Legends. Several of them I recognized from my mother’s personal library. Two of them were very familiar to me because Mom wrote them. If she had Mom’s books then this woman was really a fanatic. They were all about female empowerment and stuff like that. I’ve read both of them, barely.
“How much do you know about the historical Amazons?”
I smiled. “Quite a lot actually. My mother is Helena Sandsmark.”
Her eyes widened. I don’t think she was expecting that. “How serendipitous then.”
Her smile afterwards was so fake. I knew her type. She was one of those people who read a lot of books and thought herself smart because of it. She liked to use those smarts to thumb her nose at people who weren’t as smart as she was. Traveling around the world with Mom, I met a lot of academics like her. They thought they knew everything there was to know about their given field and hated it when people knew more information than they did. I think she thought I was a dumb jock like the other girls and she could tell me what’s what.
She recovered from her shock quickly though. “How much do you know about the Bana-Mighdall?”
She had me there. I didn’t even know they were a people. I thought it was just some stupid name she made up. At seeing my confusion, she got a sinister smile. Touché.
“Did you know that were two Queens of the Amazons?” I shook my head; her smile spread almost the whole of her face.
“Hippolyta---who is the one everyone knows---and her sister Antiope. The two sisters ruled the Amazons jointly for some time until He showed” The way she said “He”---with that venom---I think I knew to whom she was referring. “He came on one of his stupid labors. At first, the sisters captured him and forced him into manual labor for several months in fact. But slowly he started to woo the weak-minded Hippolyta. Antiope saw right through his tricks though and tried to warn her sister that no good would come from this man. She wanted to kill him but Hippolyta was smitten. She couldn’t see reason. She released him from his captivity and let him roam their camp freely. That’s when disaster struck. He stole her precious belt, running off with it just as he planned all along.
Hippolyta was heartbroken. But Antiope was unforgiving. She tried to convince her sister to raise arms and follow the infidel but Hippolyta refused. Enraged, Antiope and several of her followers broke off from the weak minded Hippolyta and her foolish ways”
She took a deep breath, taking a sip from a nearby mug. “Antiope and her Sisters wandered the whole of Europe and then the Middle East, looking for a new home. They finally found one in Egypt, founding the city of Bana-Mighdall.”
She took another sip. This part of her tale sounded vaguely familiar. Mom and I were in Egypt about a year or so ago. She was following up a lead there. We actually went to some ruins, believed to be a diverse sect of the Amazons. But after playing in the dirt for a month or so, Mom deemed them to be insignificant. She said there was evidence of Amazons being there but they were unimportant to her. So unimportant that she didn’t even bother to take any notes. I wonder what this “Antiope” would have thought about that.
She set down her mug.
It interested me a bit. “What happened to them?”
She smiled. “They thrived for many years but like most civilizations, they disappeared into history. But unlike most, they didn’t completely go away. Secret sects of the Bana have been documented throughout history, going by different names. There have been several notable members in fact.”
I waited for her to list them but she didn’t. “Unlike their Greek sisters who faded with time, the Bana continued to gather followers, growing secretly over time. There are chapters all over the world, most not as big as the one we have here but just as important.”
I nodded. “Is that why the girls have Greek names?”
She smiled and nodded. “It’s a tradition. When a new Sister is inducted into our Order, she gives up her real name and takes her new, proper one.”
I nodded. “Are all the leaders of the different sects called Antiope?”
Boy would that be confusing at get togethers.
“Most of them choose their own names. I was given the privilege to be named after our Patron due to my large contribution to the Order.”
“Does that make you the Queen?”
She smiled. “We have no Queen. Not anymore.”
I could hear the disdain in her voice, though. I think she wanted to be Queen. I think she wanted to be Queen more than anything in the world. I felt kinda uncomfortable sitting across from her. She was clearly an ambitious person and ambitious people---like my mother---tended to have their own problems. I can’t even fathom what Mom’s are. But this woman’s problems were pretty clear. She wanted to be in control and would do anything to get it. People like her were extremely dangerous because you never knew what they were going to do. Looking at this pretty blonde woman sitting behind her desk, plastered with a fake smile, I was very wary of her. I’m sure she didn’t even notice her particular flaw and if she did she probably didn’t think of it as one, but it was there. I wanted to get up and run away as fast as I could but I had Artemis to think about. She was so excited about bringing me here, I was certain it would hurt her feelings if I fled. I had something else to think about, too.
These girls were Amazons, after all. They might not be the ones that I knew about or the ones who followed the Queen of whose belt I wore but they were still Amazons. A small part of me was certain that being here was Fate. I’m not sure what my part was to play in any of this---Hera hadn’t really been all that forthcoming on that---but I was certain she wanted me to find these girls. I’m not sure how or why I knew that but I just did. Ok, so maybe I didn’t believe in some of the stuff they did around here but maybe I could help change that. The girls on the track team didn’t seem all that bad, Artemis wasn’t a bad person. The only one I really needed to look out for was sitting across from me and as much control as she had now, in the end there wasn’t much she could do that could hurt me.
She studied me for a few seconds, probably trying to figure out what I was thinking. Then she picked up her mug and took another sip. “Usually when I have a talk with a potential recruit, she and I have a heart to heart, put all our cards on the table” I nodded. “But I don’t think I need to do that with you. I like you, I like everything about you.”
She flashed me one of those fake smiles again. It made my skin crawl. Could I join this group and deal with her every day? “I’m honored that you would think of me as a potential member but I’m still not sure what you guys do around here.”
She laughed. It was a melodious tone. “We don’t do much of anything other than what our ancestors did, of course. I can trace my bloodline back to Phthia; my ancestors were born leaders. Most of the girls here can’t do any such thing, but they have a lot of potential. Your friend Artemis for instance, I foresee a great future ahead for her.”
I nodded. “You still didn’t answer my question.”
She smiled, her eyes narrowing a bit. “Well first and foremost we train.”
“To hone our bodies and our minds of course.”
I nodded. “But why do we need to do that? Are we preparing for something?”
Antiope looked confused. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”
“You said the girls here are training their bodies and their minds. But you can’t honestly be doing it just to do it. There has to be some purpose, right?”
Like the reason why I was given the Girdle or the reason why my brain was now hardwired with the Amazons, twenty-four seven. She might be a hack but maybe she had some answers.
Antiope smiled again. “There is always something my dear. Some obstacle to overcome, some war to train for. I can honestly say that there’s nothing at the moment but we are always prepared for something.”
I inwardly groaned. So this was all a load of crap. They were a group of LARPers playing pretend. I’m sure they thought it was all serious but it was nonsense to me. Here I thought I’d found the answer to some of my questions, but all I really found was a bunch of fakes. I’m sure they meant well but in the end, they were a group of young women who were using this place as an excuse to do something with their lives. I couldn’t believe Artemis and her friends would buy into all this crap. I couldn’t believe I was still sitting here listening to it.
“So in other words you guys do nothing?”
She laughed and shook her head. “It might not look like much but we help young ladies like yourself discover their true potential. I’ll admit that we’re not much to look at but if anything, we help you become athletes.”
Upstairs could attest for that.
“I’m not sure if I’m interested,” I said, pushing myself up out of my seat.
I was tired of playing games with her. She and this place had nothing to offer me. I had a feeling as soon as I walked into her office that this was going to be a waste of time. When I stood up, she didn’t bother to stop me. She only smiled. I wanted to give her the damn finger but instead I turned and walked toward the door, grumbling.
“You and your mother found something in Greece, didn’t you?”
I stopped dead in my tracks, my hand on the doorknob. Her words turned my blood ice cold.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” I said, opening the door.
“I have connections, I hear things.”
“Well your connections are wrong.”
“My connections are very precise,” she said, standing up.
I turned around and she came around the desk. She was a bit taller than I thought---not as tall as me but still close to six feet. I guess the Amazons here had a height requirement or something. Looking for the perfect female specimen no doubt. She walked slowly over to me. I took a step back, not wanting her to come any closer. She made me nervous and I didn’t like that about her. Like I said, she was a dangerous person and I didn’t trust her one bit. She put her hands on my shoulders, backing me up gently into the door.
“I have no idea what you found there and right now it’s not important,” she said with a sweet smile. “What is important is that you can find a home here, friends and even family if you wish. I can help you and maybe in time you can learn to trust me.”
“You have nothing to offer me,” I said, pulling out from under her hands.
“No” she said, admitting something which was already very obvious. “But maybe you and I can find someone who does. As I said, I have a lot of connections. The Bana have a large network, we’re all over the world. Maybe I don’t have something, but maybe one of our other Sects do. If you’re willing, maybe you and I can see if one of those Sects has something pertaining to whatever it is you might have discovered.”
I bit my lip. I couldn’t do this alone. I knew I shouldn’t trust her but there had to be a reason for this. I mean what are the odds that a group of Amazons would show up in my home town. I took a deep breath and nodded.
“I’ll join your little group,” I said, she smiled but I raised my hand to cut off whatever she was about to say. “But I’m not taking part in any of your stupid little games.”
She smiled. “Fair enough.”
I groaned. She leaned forward and wrapped me in a hug.
“Welcome home sister” she whispered softly in my ear.
What the hell was I getting myself in to?
It was late by the time Artemis drove me home.
“I can come in and explain things to your grandma if you want?” she asked, knowing how late it really was.
I shook my head. “I’m already in enough trouble as it is; I don’t need for you to get into any, too.”
She smiled. “Trouble in my middle name.”
Lately it was mine too. I thanked her for the ride and for everything else then I got out of the car. It was cold and dark as I made my way up to the porch, carrying my backpack in one hand and the duffle in the other. I didn’t even have to pull out my keys because the door opened even before I got there. My grandmother was standing there with the sternest look on her face. I opened my arms and she did something unexpected, she through her arms around me and wrapped in a hug. She might have even been crying a little bit. Ok, that I wasn’t expecting. We stood in the doorway for a few seconds until I managed to pry her away and we went into the house. I heard Artemis squeal away behind us so I locked the door.
“Ok, what did I miss?”
My grandma sighed. “I was so worried about you. Agent Chase was here earlier and said you disappeared after your track tryouts.”
Busted. “I was going to tell you about that,” I said sheepishly.
“Later” she said as she walked over and sat on the couch. “She had agents scouring the whole city looking for you; I think she thought you were abducted by the same ones who attacked you on the island.”
I groaned. I realized how careless I’d been, but I forgot that I was in danger. Of course, everyone would be worried about me. I mean after all I did kinda disappear without telling anyone where I went. I’m sure Chase was pretty damn furious and she had every right to be. I would have been pretty furious with me, too. The worst part, I’m not usually one to go off and not tell anyone where I was going. Of course, I never went off anywhere in the first place. Before, I used to go to school and come home, spending the rest of the night doing homework, watching TV and playing video games. Yep, I was a total loser before.
I dropped my bags near the door and walked over to the couch. I sat down next to grandma and took her hand. I quickly gave her a rundown of today’s events. I apologized about not telling her about the track team but she understood. She asked if I wanted her to straighten it out with the principal but I shook my head. I think I could make it work. After all, I needed to keep busy and track might actually be the outlet I was looking for. I was convinced that I’d be able to keep myself under control. When I told her about Artemis and the girls taking me to Chicago, she turned kinda green. But I quickly explained the fitness club to her and she relaxed a bit. I left out the part about those girls pretending to be Amazons.
It was just too crazy to explain.
When I was finished, grandma patted my knee. “You’re a big girl; I think you can make your own decisions.”
I smiled. “Thanks grandma.”
She slowly got to her feet. “Are you hungry? I can warm up some leftovers for you?”
My stomach grumbled so that answered the question. I followed her into the kitchen and she took a plate out of the fridge. It was meatloaf, wrapped in saran wrap. She unwrapped it and put it into the microwave. Then she handed me the phone. I knew exactly what she wanted me to do but I groaned anyway. While she was heating up dinner for me, I dialed Cameron’s number.
She picked up on the second ring. “You better have a good explanation,” she snapped, not even waiting for me to say hello.
I filled her in with as little detail as possible.
“The track team?” She sighed heavily. “Are you out of your mind?”
“I need an outlet and as much as I enjoy running circles around Jay, that’s not really cutting it for me. Track is exactly what I need.”
She groaned. “This is a really bad idea.”
“Then stick a spy on me or something. Make sure I don’t do anything stupid.”
I think I heard her smirk. “How do you know we don’t have one already?”
I laughed. “I think I’d know if someone was following me around.”
“You’d be surprised.”
I’m not sure I liked that. I stuck to the subject though. “So is the track team ok or not?”
She sighed heavily again. “If you promise not to overdo then I don’t see where there’s going to be a problem.”
I pumped the air with my fist. “You’re the best, Cam.”
“Don’t call me Cam” she said and hung up.
“Everything ok?” asked grandma as she placed the plate in front of me.
“Never better” I said as she handed me a fork and I dug in.
Grandma excused herself, going upstairs to ready herself for bed. I ate my dinner alone at the kitchen table. Unfortunately there was only a little bit of the meatloaf left, I think she probably gave most of it to the agents who I’m sure were here all night. Afterwards I washed the dish and fork then made my way upstairs. It was only eight o’clock or so but grandma often went to bed fairly early. I knew that didn’t sound too late to come home too but I’d never stayed out past six, ever. Not even when I was a kid, unless I was off somewhere with grandpa. Then the two of us spent hours out doing whatever it was we usually did.
I went upstairs, dragging my two bags with me. I dropped them on my bedroom floor, taking note that there was something different about the room. New curtains, I think. I also noticed the new alarm clock. I smiled as I stripped out of my school clothes and retrieved the oversized shirt that had become my official pajamas. I grabbed my homework and went back down to the kitchen. It was English and Math tonight; I did most of the other in my late study hall. I think I might have mentioned how much I hated math. I could never understand why we needed it in the first place. But as I sat there and looked at the problems on the page, it all suddenly started to make sense to me. I groaned, realizing it was more of the hardwiring. Math was mainly a Greek thing I think, so of course Hera would put it all in my head. It kinda creeped me out but it was cool that I was able to breeze through it so quickly.
English was another story. How do you write an essay about what you did over break when you had a break like mine? Luckily, for me it wasn’t due until the end of the week. So I pushed it aside and went into the living room to watch TV. I surfed for a bit, ended up on the news for a minute or two. They were talking about the new girl who had just inherited billions. I think I might have heard something about it. I paid little attention but it was kinda cool that she was my age and now she was a billionaire. She was cute too, they showed her leaving her fancy skyscraper and getting into a limo. It was too bad that I didn’t like girls that way anymore.
I watched Adult Swim after that. I laid down on the couch, dragged one of the pillows under my head and laughed at all the stupid cartoons on there. I’m not sure how long I watched it before my eyelids got heavy and I started to get drowsy. Before I lost total consciousness, I swore I saw that damn owl sitting outside the living room window watching me. But it was there one minute and gone the next. I ignored it and allowed my mind to drift off to other things. Mainly what I was going to do about this Amazon thing. I couldn't get my brain around what I was going to do about it.
I thought about that for a while then slowly drifted to sleep.
I woke up to the alarm going off. When I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I was a bit confused. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch, I was certain of that. But looking around, hearing the buzzing I was definitely in my room. I groaned, gently stretching out and shutting the clock off. No point making my grandmother buy another. I rubbed my neck, it was a little stiff. As I was rubbing it, something came back to me. It was something faint---like a dream. I definitely remember falling asleep on the couch but there was something else too. Someone was there---I’m not sure if it was a man or a woman---but whoever it was picked me up. It definitely wasn’t my grandmother that’s for sure and I’m guessing Donna wasn’t that strong. Maybe one of Cameron’s men? The thought of a stranger carrying me to my room made me shudder a bit.
I got out of bed and went through my morning routine. Yesterday was on my mind the whole time I was in the shower. I couldn’t help but think I’d made a horrible mistake, agreeing to join their little group. I refused to think of them as Amazons, because let’s face it they weren’t. They were a bunch of girls playing pretend. It was kinda sad; I really thought I had found a kindred group there for a second. I’m sure they were all really good girls but I’m not really sure I fit in with them. It still bugged me though that they just happened to be in Chicago. It was just too much of a coincidence. I wish I could talk to Hera about it but lately my dreams had been nothing but the usual. Though I did have an unsettling one the other day about standing in front of the school in my underwear but instead of the usual, it was a pair of boxers. That one kinda freaked me out some.
When I dressed and got downstairs, there was a pile of mail sitting on the counter. The letter on top was a little unusual for us. It was ornate, the envelope made of a heavier material. The lettering was gold and fancy. I picked it up; it was addressed to me. But what surprised me more was the logo in the corner, a purple W, the sign of Wayne Enterprises.
“That came for you yesterday,” my grandma said as she placed some bacon and toast on the table for me. There were extra helpings of it.
“Why me?” I asked, slowly opening the envelope.
My eyes widened when I saw what was inside. It was an invitation, addressed to me, Cassandra Sandsmark. The lettering was gold and elegant, like on the envelope. I scanned it quickly and sighed. It was an invitation to a new museum opening. Before getting the grant, Mom had done some work for Mr. Wayne. He’d asked her to find some nice pieces for him to put on display in a new Greek exhibit at the Fields. It’s one of the reasons she got her grant so easily, seeing that he knew she did good work. But that was several months ago, I’d completely forgotten about it. I’d only met him briefly when he showed up here to ask Mom personally---which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. But he’d met me as Charlie, how in the hell did he know about Cassandra?
“Oh that’s lovely dear,” said my grandma, taking a glance at it. Then she tutted. “Two days, that doesn’t give us a lot of time to find you a dress.”
“A dress?” I squeaked.
“Of course, you can’t go to this in jeans,” she laughed.
I paled. A dress. I read further and paled even more. “It says Plus One.”
“That means you can bring a date.”
A date, I gulped. Why did life have to be so difficult? I wracked my brain, trying to figure out whom I could bring. Not that I wanted to ask anyone but surely someone would like to come and keep me company. I suppose I could bring Donna but that would be like kinda awkward. Besides, I’m sure she got one of these too, she is Mom’s assistant after all. I wonder if Connor…no that would be extremely awkward. Besides he’d never go to it, he hates things like this. There were only two other guys around my age I really knew. Eddie was definitely out of the question. I bit my lip, that just left Jay. But would he really want to go to this thing with a sixteen year old?
The ringing of the doorbell interrupted my thoughts. I sat at the table, my whole body numb. Why did life have to be so complicated? When Connor came in, he smiled, flashing me all his pearly whites. I blushed and tried to ignore him as the two of us devoured our breakfast in silence. The car ride to school was in relative silence, too. He asked me how the “tryout” went---apparently, he thought I was trying to get on the team too---so I told him it went well. Well for them anyway. He thought it was kinda cool that I was joining the ranks of the “elite”. He said it with air quotes, we both laughed.
School dragged on kinda slow. At lunch, Amy joined Cissie and me at our table.
“So where did you go yesterday anyway?” she asked, opening her little carton of milk.
“Artemis and her friends dragged me off to some spa in the big city.”
“That sounds nice,” said Cissie, smiling. “My mother and I used to go to a lot of those before she got so busy with work.”
Her mother was a big time businesswoman. She worked for a rival company of Wayne’s, owned by Henry Ballard. I think it bothered Cissie that her mom worked for a sleaze like Ballard. I know it would bother me. That guy gave everyone I know the creeps.
“A spa?” asked Amy, setting her milk down. “They go all the way into Chicago for a damn mud bath?”
I shrugged. “It’s some kind of exclusive thing, members only.”
“You get a membership?” I nodded; Amy smiled. “Well that’s better then, maybe we can shoot some love our way, pamper your friends like princesses too.”
We all had a laugh. Amy might get in, Cissie not so much. I didn’t say that though. She seemed like the kinda girl that might take something like that personally. I changed the subject after that, telling them all about my invite to the exhibit opening. I asked them if either was interested in going. Amy didn’t seem too keen on the idea but Cissie did until I mentioned when it was. Unfortunately, she had a piano lessons that night she couldn’t miss because there was a big recital coming up. It pained me that she never got to have any fun. I made a mental note to kidnap her and drag her to an amusement park as soon as I got the time.
The rest of the school day went by quickly. I had Eddie Bloomberg in three classes and it never occurred to me that when I got into my second one with him that he wasn’t there. Not that it really mattered much to me but I did feel for him a bit. He did look a little pale yesterday and let’s face, it probably didn’t help that I gave his coin purse a good squeeze. Not that I felt bad about that---he did deserve it after all---but I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious. I made another mental note, this one to ask Connor if Eddie was feeling any better or worse.
When the end of the school day came around, Artemis and another girl from the team were waiting for me. She was one of “Artemis’ Six” as I’d come to think of them. She was tall and black; her hair was long, down her back in tight braids. She had a beauty about her that made her look like an African princess. Like the others in the group, she was ripped. She looked a little more so than the others though, like she spent a lot more time working out than anything else. I looked her up and down and she did the same with me.
“Hey Cas, this is Karna” said Artemis, thumbing the girl.
Karna nodded. Seriously, what the hell kind of name was that. I wonder if it was her real one or a fake like all her friends. I smiled weakly and nodded. “What can I do for you guys today?”
“We’re going for a run then we thought we might head into the city. We thought you might want to tag along.”
“I can run for a bit but I’m kinda busy tonight.”
In truth, I didn’t really want to do either. I know I played nice yesterday and agreed to join their little play group but I wasn’t really interested in going back to that place. I know Antiope said she’d help me find whatever it was that I was looking for but I still didn’t want anything to do with her.
“I think we can live with that,” said Artemis smiling. “But you gotta come tomorrow; Antiope wants to discuss something with all of us.”
I nodded. I suppose I could come up with an excuse for that too but what was the point. As long as they didn’t make me miss the exhibit in two days I was fine with spending one more evening at that freaky place. “I think I can live with that.” I said; we laughed.
I followed them to the locker room. When we got there, Akila and Persephone were already there, dressed in sports bras and Lycra running shorts. They were insane if they were going to run in those. The other two members of Artemis’ group were there, too. They were dressed a little more conservatively. I didn’t know either of them but Artemis quickly introduced them: Laris and Anaya. Both of them were dark haired, Anaya’s skin had a golden hue to it, making her appear Middle Eastern maybe. She had Caucasian features though, a thinner nose for one. So it was possible she was a little of both. Laris was blue eyed and stern, her hair pulled back tight.
I dressed quickly enough then the seven of us hit the track. I thought maybe Akila and Persephone would complain about the cold but it amazed me that they didn’t. Even though I could see their breath, they looked perfectly fine. I kept pace with them for a while, the seven of us running as a group. It felt kinda nice for a bit but then got cramped. Our tight group didn’t last long. It was clear that Akila and Artemis were the superior runners. Laris fell off first followed by Persephone then Anaya. Karna kept good pace with me for a bit but she fell back too. I let Artemis and Akila keep the lead for a bit before I moved in on them.
"This is just a recreational run, you know,” said Akila as I passed.
I turned, running backwards. “I know,” I said with a laugh.
I turned back around and took Artemis easily. She tried to keep up this time, putting everything she had into it but like before, it wasn’t enough. Instead of showing off, I only ran one more lap before I joined the six of them at the bleachers. They were passing a little white bottle between them, popping one pill each. That gave me some pause.
“What are you doing?” I asked sternly, thinking the worse.
Artemis quickly explained. “They’re nothing bad. They’re these new vitamins; they sell them at the Spa. You want some?”
I looked at the bottle, reading the label: Ambrosia, Food of the Gods. I shook my head. “I don’t go for that kinda stuff.”
Artemis shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
After that, we went back to the locker rooms and changed. Artemis drove me home; Akila and Persephone were in the back seat again. As soon as I got in the house, I was met by Donna. She had a big smile on her face, the kinda of smile that usually met trouble. She was holding my invitation. I gulped, knowing what was coming.
“Drop your bag there but don’t get comfortable,” she said, taking out her keys.
I groaned. “I just came back from a run, can’t I shower first.”
“You don’t sweat remember.”
I groaned, why did I tell her that. My grandma came out of the kitchen with her purse, wearing her winter coat.
“Good, you’re home now the three of us can hit the mall.”
I didn’t need to ask for what. The two of them were going to drag me dress shopping. I tried to make a break for the stairs but Donna blocked me. She turned me around and pointed me toward the door. I grumbled a lot but I went along willingly. We spent hours in Woodfield or so it seemed. Donna and grandma dragged me from one store to the next. It didn’t take long to find the right dress---it was gold and ended just above my knees. Then we had to get shoes and accessories. They said there was no time for the salon but maybe tomorrow. Not if I could help it. We ended up eating dinner in the food court.
An hour after more shopping---groan---we finally went back home. Donna came with us. I think the fact that she had an empty apartment waiting for her influenced that decision. Not that either Grandma or me cared, we liked having her. It was like having an older sister actually, which was fun---some of the time anyway. Grandma went to bed early again, while Donna and I changed into our pajamas to watch some TV. On the couch, she sat behind me and braided my hair. I filled her in on the last few days; she listened without commenting, until the end anyways.
“You think they might be the real deal?” she asked, referring to the “Amazons”.
“I think they think they are.”
“Sounds too good to be true if you ask me.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
That night I made sure to go to bed upstairs. I wasn’t really looking forward to being carried upstairs by whoever. I asked grandma about it earlier but she said she didn’t know a thing about it. Donna didn’t know anything either. Which really freaked me? I spent the whole night lying there, trying to figure out if I was going crazy or not. Every once and a while I glanced over at my window, my nighttime sentinel standing watch. The bird didn’t even freak me out anymore, in fact I kinda felt secure knowing he was there watching over me.
I fell asleep without too much worry. The next morning, I woke and went through my routine. It felt kinda monotonous now but it was my life. Downstairs in the kitchen, Donna was actually at the breakfast table. Today was Thursday and apparently, she had no class tonight, so there was no need for her to sleep in. There was a plate of pancakes and bacon, far too much for the three of us. But my grandma was thinking about my new appetite and our morning visitor. Not too long after I sat down, the doorbell rang. This time Donna got up and answered, a little too happy if you ask me.
I caught the tail end of their conversation as the two of them walked into the kitchen.
“Its really fancy but I’m sure you don’t need a dinner jacket.”
I knew exactly what they were talking about. I glared at her, she smiled innocently.
Connor looked a little uncomfortable. “Ummm….I don’t know…”
I rolled my eyes. Donna was so going to die for this. I cleared my throat. “Connor, would you like to be my date tomorrow night for the exhibit opening?”
He blushed about as red as my shirt.”I…ummm…if it’s ok with you.”
I nodded. “The event starts at seven. If you pick me about an hour early, I think we can get there in time.”
We ate breakfast in silence. I kept giving Donna the evil eye; she finally stuck her tongue out at me. Boy was she going to get it now. After breakfast, Connor and I left. School seemed to drag on, I’m not sure why. Eddie was absent again and I cursed, forgetting to ask Connor if everything was all right. Now I was starting to get a little worried. At lunch, I found out I wasn’t the only one. Cissie kept looking over at the football table, frowning. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who she was looking for. I couldn’t help but smile. I guess it didn’t surprise me in the least, her having a crush on Eddie. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had one on her too. I knew it wasn’t Middle school anymore but Eddie was one of those immature guys who probably still teased the girl he liked. He probably knew it was social suicide for him to be with her but I’ve seen stranger things happen.
“I think he’s probably all right,” I said, trying to see if I could catch her.
“I don’t know, he looked really bad….” She cut off quickly, flushing.
I smiled. “You want me to ask Connor where he leaves so we can go check on him.”
She didn’t say anything at first. She continued to flush but then slowly nodded. I stood up, Cissie’s eyes widened. I don’t think she thought I was going to do it now. Then I walked over to the football table. The jerks were doing something stupid but stopped when they saw me. One of them whistled, I glared at him and he shut up. I crouched down and whispered in Connor’s ear. His eyes opened in surprise then he smiled. He turned and whispered Eddie’s address in my ear. I decided I was going to give the jackasses a show so I kissed Connor on the check---don’t ask me why---then walked away with a little sway to my hips. I’ve officially lost my mind now.
“I’ve got his address,” I said, pulling out a pen and scribbling it on a napkin. Amy looked at it and smiled as Cissie. “We can go Saturday if you’re free?”
Cissie nodded as she took the napkin, sliding it slowly off the table so no one would see. Amy teased her a little bit through the rest of lunch but it was all in fun.
The rest of the day went by faster than the morning half of it.
Artemis and company were waiting for my again after ninth. I was kinda dreading it all day. But I did promise I’d go with them today. So I dragged my feet a bit, as I exchanged my books for more books and stuffed it all in my bag. Once again, I drove with Artemis, Akila and Persephone. Apparently, Karna drove the others. We made good time. This time I remembered to ask for a cell phone---Persephone passed me hers---and I called my grandma. I told her I probably wouldn’t be home for dinner as I was going to be off with friends. We finally arrived at the spa about an hour after leaving the school, this time they didn’t blindfold me. Apparently, they didn’t need to; I was one of them now.
We didn’t have to go very far when we got inside. The spa apparently was cleared out except for about twenty or so girls my age. I think this might have been the group. I looked at the group; none of them were the ones I saw up here the other day. So apparently, there were two sides to this place: the ones allowed up here and the ones allowed down there. I looked at the girls, all kneeling in their white dresses; Antiope was in front of the group. She was standing at the dais, hovering above the rest. Instead of wearing her pantsuit from earlier, she was wearing a dress similar to the one they were wearing. But unlike them, she wore a purple sash and had a golden laurel wreath crown on her head.
I groaned softly. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
“We’re going to go change,” said Artemis with a smile. “Do you want us to get you a robe, too?”
I shook my head. “I don’t have to wear one.”
Artemis gave me a funny look but nodded. She and the others disappeared, heading toward a door off to the left. Me, I stood there and listened. Antiope was apparently in the middle of telling the assemblage some of her crazy babble. I only half paid attention, my eyes wandering about a bit. Though this was, the same exercising room from earlier, most of the equipment was moved off to the side. I rolled my eyes, wondering how all these girls could actually fall for her bullshit. It was clear that she thrived on attention and these girls were more than happy to give it to her.
The Artemis Six came back, robed just like the others. Artemis came over and brought me to the group. There was no point in resisting so I followed. I wondered what jewel of wisdom was so important that I needed to hear it too.
Antiope smiled at us, her eyes lingering on me for a few seconds.
“Now that we have all gathered my Sisters,” she said, opening her arms wide. “I have a very important announcement” She paused for dramatic effect. Then said in a louder voice. “The Goddess has spoken to me.”
There were a lot of gasps. I rolled my eyes. If my Goddess had actually spoken to her she’d probably have a heart attack.
“She has told me to prepare you for a great Change. The Change is coming, it will bring about a new world, a world where Womankind will rise above all else.”
Give me a break. I had to get out of here before she brainwashed me with this crap. I looked around, seeing Artemis a few girls over. I slid over to her and whispered softly. “Where’s the bathroom?”
She looked surprised for a second. “In the lobby, but surely you’re not going to leave now.”
I smiled. “I’ll be right back.”
I pushed my way to my feet and walked at a brisk pace to get out of there. Charis was not at the front desk, so I was alone. I looked at the creepy bronze Minotaur statue and shuddered. Who the hell would put that thing in a spa? I made sure I was alone before I bolted for the door. I stepped aside, shivering a bit---the cold didn’t bother me as much as it should have but it was still cold. I looked around, not familiar with this part of the city. But I knew from driving by that there was a coffee shop down the block. They probably had a phone that I could use. Coming here was a really bad idea. I knew it would have been but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they were kinda harmless. Now I knew they were kinda nuts, too.
I started walking in the direction of the shop, moving at a brisk pace. I wasn’t thinking straight nor paying much attention. I suppose it was my fault. Not paying attention leads to mistakes. That’s what happened when I walked by the alley. There was someone waiting, someone I didn’t see. He came out of the shadows, grabbing me from behind. He got the drop on me; my heightened reactions didn’t have time to react. At least not at first. He dragged me into the alley, several feet from the street. He had a knife to my throat, and overpowered me with Bo. When we were about twenty feet into the alley, far enough away from the road, he pushed me face first into the wall.
“Your money bitch” he slurred “NOW!”
I spun around, catching him by surprise. His arm was outstretched, the knife pointing at me. I was kinda glad it wasn’t a gun, not that that would have mattered. I snapped forward quickly, grabbing his wrist. I twisted it up, hearing a snap. He screamed but I pulled him toward me, kneeing him in the gut. I watched as the knife clattered to the floor. Then I dragged him further into the alley, his wrist still twisted in my hand. He was whimpering in pain.
“You made two mistakes, you jackass,” I said as I dragged him. “One you were actually stupid enough to try to mug me.”
I let go of his arm. He cradled it to his chest and tried to run. I stepped in front of him quickly, blocking him. Behind us was a dead end. I grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him about two feet off the ground.
“Your second mistake” I said, pulling him closer. “You picked the wrong night to do it.”
I spun him around and tossed him into the nearby dumpster.
I groaned as I looked at the grime on my hands then wiped them on my jeans. I guess I’ll have to burn these now. I made sure he wasn’t getting out of the dumpster then looked around for his dropped knife. I picked up and angrily slammed it into the brick wall, driving it in so hard that it wouldn’t be easy to pull out. When I walked to the end of the alley, I looked around until I found what I was looking for. There was a police officer writing a ticket. I smiled and walked over.
“Officer, I saw someone with a gun in that alley back there.”
“Are you sure miss?”
I nodded. He tipped his hat and ran off in the direction I came from. I stayed around for a bit---out of sight---I watched as the officer came out of the alley a minute or two later, dragging the whimpering mugger. I didn’t wait around as he called for backup. Instead, I headed on my way. I passed by the commotion that was gathering. I locked eyes with the mugger as I passed. He started babbling incoherently as I passed, pointing in my direction. But no one was paying any attention.
I walked to the coffee shop and asked the guy behind the counter if I could use the phone. He was my age and I hate to admit it, kinda cute. I batted my eyes and he handed over his own cell phone. I took a minute deciding who to call. Then dialed the number. It rang once before he answered.
“Hey Connor” I said, choosing my words. “Ummm…I’m in the city. I was wondering if you could maybe give me a ride home.”
"What, where are you?”
I told him the address. “I…ummm…it’s a long story, I’ll explain when you get here.”
“Ok, I’m on my way.”
We decided to stay in the coffee shop and get something. Besides Connor was dying to know what was going on and he was paying. Not that it was a date but I was kinda thirsty. Hungry, too. So after he got us some coffee and some danishes, we found a quiet booth and I told him what I was doing in the city. I left out the part about the guy trying to mug me. He nodded throughout my story, only speaking when I was done.
“You mean you got a membership at the Bana?” he asked shocked.
I nodded. “That it means much to me. Those people are nuts.”
He laughed. “Do you know how jealous half the girls at our school would be if they found out you got into Bana. It’s really exclusive; you have to know someone who knows someone to get in.”
“Believe me, they’re not missing much.”
He didn’t believe me so I told him what everyone was missing. I sugar coated it of course, leaving out everything about the real secret. But I did tell him it was like a cult in there, all smiley faces and white gowns. That kinda freaked him a little bit. After that, we changed topics and started talking about school. Which of course led to Eddie and Cissie. I asked about Eddie because I knew he hadn’t been around here very long or else I would have remembered him. Apparently, he transferred about a month or so before hand, I was still there then so I must have just missed him. According to Connor---who’d been in Little League Football with him for years---Eddie wasn’t a bad guy. But lately he was having problems, flares of temper and things like that.
It felt kinda strange, sitting her with him like this. I know I’ve been doing it all week at the kitchen table for breakfast and on the way to school but something about now felt different. I’m not sure what it was but I kinda liked it. I’m not saying I liked him---well I did, I mean he is my best friend---but I don’t like him, like him. But there was just something about him, sitting there with me that made me feel kinda gooey inside. And for some reason, I was kinda nervous about it.
“Ummm” he said, breaking our silence. “Why did you call me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
He picked up his coffee and took a small sip. “Your aunt lives in the city, doesn’t she?”
I was about to say, “No, she doesn’t” when I realized that would have been a huge mistake. I was pretending to be Vanessa’s daughter, even though no one seemed to bother asking why I went by Sandsmark, my grandmother’s maiden name and not my mother’s---well my fake one anyone. My real mother was supposed to be my “aunt” now. Which I’m sorry to say was the stupidest thing I could have come up with. Why didn’t I say I was my own sister or something like that?
I realized he was waiting for my answer. So I gave him one. “I don’t really know her. My mother and she didn’t get along well and I’ve always heard these stories about her.”
Connor laughed and nodded. “She’s definitely interesting.”
I smiled. Connor knew my Mom really well. She didn’t care for him much, I think he reminded her of my father. They were both tall, dark and handsome. God, did I just think Connor was handsome. I wonder if he saw me flush. I turned my head away. Damn hormones.
We talked a little more about my mother/pretend aunt. Then he shifted his questions to the Exhibit opening. I was afraid he was going to go there. I tried to be as informative as possible but to tell you the truth I don’t really remember much. I know she went to a couple different places---pulled some old favors---and got some really nice pieces from some private collectors. Jameson Queen helped out a bit too, used his resources to track down some really hard to find pieces. All I knew for certain was the name of the Exhibit, Heroes of Ancient Greece. I’m not sure my Mom was too happy about it but a paycheck is a paycheck and Mr. Wayne pays very well.
After we were done with our coffee, Connor paid and the two of us went out to his truck. There was a commotion near the alley where I was almost mugged. There was a crowd gathered and a news van. I groaned, wondering if I’d overdone it. Connor looked over, his curiosity piqued.
“What’s going on?”
I shrugged. “Probably something trivial and boring”
“You want to check it out?”
I faked a yawn. I looped my arm through his; it seemed like the right thing to do. “I’m tired; can you just take me home please?”
He looked at me with a smile. “Sure thing.”
We got into the truck and he drove me toward home. There was a slight delay due to the weather. It was starting to snow, which wasn’t too odd considering the weather as of late. The whole of the country was going through some kind of deep freeze. When I was younger, my grandma always used to say that Demeter must have been having a particularly hard time moaning over Persephone whenever the cold got too bad. I used to think she was just telling stories, using my Greek Myth education to make me feel better. Now---especially after meeting Hera---I really wondered if Demeter was out there, bemoaning her missing daughter who was now currently in the Underworld with her Lord of the Dead, husband, Hades.
We finally arrived at my house about an hour later than we should have. On the way, I had used Connor’s cell to call and tell my grandma what was going on. I think she was a bit surprised but she didn’t question me. I said my goodbye and thanks to Connor. It was funny because I actually lingered at the truck a little longer than I should have. I’m not sure what I was expecting, hanging half way in his window like that. When nothing happened, I smiled and wandered slowly up the drive toward the house. When I got inside, my grandma was on the couch watching the news.
I heard a female voice coming from the set. “As strange as it may sound, the mugger, whose identity is being withheld, claims that he was attacked by the woman he tried to mug.”
I groaned. I figured they were there, covering my handiwork. My grandma raised an eyebrow as I walked into the room and flopped down on the couch next to her. The scene on the screen showed the alley then the camera zoomed in on the knife, sticking in the wall where I angrily left it. My grandma muted the TV and turned to me.
I sighed. “He caught me off guard. He was trying to mug me, what was I supposed to do.”
She laughed. “Agent Chase isn’t going to be happy about this you know.”
I sighed heavily; flopping my head down on her lap, she stroked my hair. “She can go screw herself.”
Grandma tisked. “That’s not very nice, definitely not very ladylike either.”
“I don’t care; I’m tired of being a lady anyway.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do about that,” she said, gently wiping the tear off my cheek.
I didn’t even know I was crying.
“Is everything all right, sweetheart?”
“No” I said, the tears flowing, this time I knew they were coming. “I’m so damn confused.”
She helped me sit up and held me while I cried. I stayed like that for a while, crying on her shoulder. She didn’t ask any questions, she didn’t say anything comforting or try to give me advice. She just let me and it felt good. I blubbered for a bit and then gave her a rundown of the night’s events, telling her everything. She listened, not saying a word. I think it surprised her when I chose to call Connor and not Mom or even Jason---he lived in that area. But she didn’t say anything about it. Instead, she let me tell her my story. When I was done, she warmed up some leftovers for me. I ate quietly, wondering what the hell I was going to do about things. I was now pretty certain that I might have feelings for Connor and though that was scary, it was the least of my problems. I still had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to do.
“Even normal girls like me have problems” said grandma “and trust me, there’s not always an answer to them.”
I nodded. “I thought they were going to be like me.”
She nodded. “There’s a solution to that you know.”
“And what’s that?”
“Make them like you.”
I laughed. I don’t think that was even possible. But maybe it was worth a try. First, I needed to discover exactly what I was and what exactly I could do. That was going to take a lot of time and energy. And as much as it pained me, I’d need the use of The Bana’s exercise room to help me figure that out.
“Everything should be ok,” said Cameron as she shuffled papers.
“Are you sure?” I asked, moving my fork through the eggs on my plate.
She nodded. “I interrogated the suspect myself. He was very high at the time of the mugging. He was a junky looking for a quick fix. He rambled on and on about you one minute and then a yellow elephant the next. He was only coherent half the time so Detective Schorr barely believed him.”
I let out a sigh of relief. I was pretty certain the guy was going to give them an accurate description of me and there would be reporters knocking on my door first thing in the morning. There was someone at the door when I came downstairs for breakfast but it was only Agent Chase. She didn’t look too happy when grandma invited her in for a cup of coffee. Apparently, she had spent half the night at the Chicago police station. First, trying to convince Detective Schorr to let her interview the suspect and then once she got to him, she spent several more hours trying to see what he knew. But like she said, he was too strung out to really remember much.
It was good to know that I didn’t permanently damage him after I subdued him. A broken wrist and some bruised ribs, both things he’d be able to live with. After the police station, they moved him to the ER where he was currently recuperating. I suppose I should have put him in a full body cast but the only one that would have satisfied was me.
I smiled. Cameron frowned. “You were lucky. Too lucky, you can’t keep taking risks like this. First the mall and now this. You can’t keep doing stuff like this.”
I groaned. “So you wanted me to let the guy mug me?”
She sighed, shaking her head. “You could have just left him there; you didn’t have to call the cop over.”
“He would have gotten away and tried it again.”
Cameron didn’t argue with me there because she knew I was right. What I should have done was stripped the son of a bitch to his underwear and tossed his ass out into the street. It would have drawn a lot of attention but at least he’d not only be embarrassed but arrested, too. I’m sure that would have gone over really, really well with her. But I needed to play nice. I was already towing the line as it is. After I disappeared on them the other day, I think they were pretty peeved with me and now I pulled this. I still couldn’t believe we lost them like that, they were the US government, how could they lose track of a group of sixteen-year-old girls?
Cameron sipped her coffee then looked down at her papers. It was a file folder, I’m sure it was on me. It wasn’t very thick but I had a feeling it was going to get thicker in an hour or two as soon as she filed all this. I’m not sure if I was impressed with it or not. It still bugged me that these people thought I was a massive threat to national security. If anything, I was an asset. After all, I took out some really bad guys in Greece; clothes-lined a purse snatcher and put a mugger in the hospital. I didn’t expect medals but at least they could have been grateful. Ok, so the last two weren’t terrorists but those guys in Greece were pretty damn hardcore. That had to count for something.
“So what happens now?”
‘Nothing at the moment. You continue to be a normal high school student and we continue to monitor you for a while. Like Agent Faraday told you, as long as you stay out of trouble we’ll leave you alone. But the more trouble you cause…”
I didn’t need for her to finish that sentence. “And if trouble finds me?”
She smiled. “I can’t tell you not to take care of it. But I can advise you to practice a little more caution next time. You’re just lucky no one saw you take care of that guy last night.”
She finished her coffee, grabbed her folder and thanked my grandma for the hospitality. Then she said her goodbyes and left. I finished my breakfast and Donna finally came down the stairs, bleary eyed and bed frazzled---I’m sure that’s a phrase somewhere. Besides, she did look frazzled. Her hair was all over the place and it looked like she’d had a fight with a bear and lost. There were dark circles under her eyes and she was dragging her feet as she entered the kitchen. When she flopped down in the chair Cameron just left, she yawned. She noticed the empty coffee cup and yawned again.
“What did Cameron want?” she asked, not missing a beat.
“Cassie was mugged last night.”
Donna winced. “Poor guy. Did you put him in the hospital, too?”
I smiled. My grandma didn’t find it funny. She answered for me. “The man may have been a criminal but he was sick, too. I might not condone what she did to him but at least he’s in some place where he can get the help he needs.”
Donna winked at me. “Good for you” she said softly so grandma couldn’t hear.
We finished breakfast; then both Donna and I scrambled to get dressed. I knew what they were planning for today and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I dragged my feet through changing, wondering if it was possibly to jump out the window. I actually looked over at it, wondering if it would hurt if I jumped from that distance. In the end though, I decided it wasn’t worth it. So I finished dressing and went downstairs. Grandma and Donna were waiting for me; both of them were overly excited. Me, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
There are several things I was hoping to avoid in my new girlhood. One of them was wearing a dress, which of course I did just a few days ago. It was only in the store but soon it would be in public. The second thing was going to a beauty salon. The idea of having some crazy woman mess with my hair and everything just sent shivers down my spine. As far as femininity went, I was a definite tomboy and I liked it that way. Ok, so maybe I was a little too pretty to be one but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. When we were clothes shopping a few days ago---almost a week ago now---I made sure that there were no skirts in my wardrobe.
There was another thing I was avoiding too, one I knew I couldn’t avoid much longer. I knew all about a girl’s monthly visitor and I was definitely not looking forward to that.
The salon was in Woodfield again. I tried to talk the two insistent women out of it but it was a no go. In the end, Donna actually had to push me inside. This place was worse than that stupid spa. It was pink and girly and smelled like someone dropped twenty bottles of flowery perfume in here. My grandma had apparently already made an appointment for me, putting me down for the full salon treatment. Whatever the hell that means. Let me tell you something right now, if anyone ever tells you you’re getting the full treatment, run like hell. Suffice to say I had more fun beating the hell out of those guys in the streets of Greece---yes, the ones that were trying to kill me.
Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little. But not much. They plucked, teased, and waxed. I was turned and twisted in so many different directions I felt like they were going to pull me apart. Ok, so some of it was actually soothing. I can honestly admit that I like it when someone else washes my hair. There’s something about someone rubbing their fingers on my scalp that makes me feel like I’m in heaven. I also didn’t mind it when they gave me a manicure and a pedicure. But if anyone ever tries to wax me again or pluck my eyebrows, I’m going to put them through a wall. Did you know they wax down there too; they call it the bikini wax. I call it a gross invasion of privacy. The whole time though, they put these little headphones on my head, playing soothing music. It only helped a little. Things got better when they gave me a facial, though. I didn’t even know they did things like that in a salon but apparently, it was a part of the full treatment here. After that, they worked on my makeup.
Overall, it took about three hours or so for them to finish with everything. When they finally tuned me around and allowed me to look in the mirror, I nearly passed out. I’d been pretty before but now I was gorgeous. Not that I’d ever put makeup on again but there was something about the girl in the mirror staring back at me that made me want to see her again. My hair was amazing too. They trimmed a little, highlighted some of it and now it was all gathered on the top of my head. I can honestly say that I looked like a princess in a Disney movie.
“Cassandra you look wonderful, honey,” said my grandma as she appeared in the mirror behind me.
“You think so?”
“A knock out, kid” said Donna from somewhere off to my left.
I smiled. Ok, I couldn’t argue with her there.
We left the salon after that. Me, I was glad to be out of there. Donna wanted to do some more shopping but I wasn’t in the mood to let her rope me into something I’d regret. She was already skating on thin ice with me as it is. I’m sure she meant well, trying to set me up with Connor but sometimes, I wondered if she wasn’t evil and out to get me. I looked at her as we left the salon, the three of us moving through the crowd. She looked like she was having a good time but I could tell that something was bothering her. I wonder if it had anything to do with Barbara. The two of them seemed happy enough but Donna was still unwilling to go that empty apartment.
“Don’t look now,” she said softly to me. “But you’ve got some admirers.”
Of course I looked and I turned beet red. Everyone we passed stopped and looked at me. It made me extremely embarrassed. If they didn’t think I was a model before, they sure did now. I tried not to let it get to me but it was hard when everyone was staring. I wanted to scream but instead I held my head high and walked with a confidence I didn’t know I had. People continued to stare but I let them. After a bit, it actually started to make me feel good.
We ate lunch in the food court. We were there about another hour then we drove back home.
It was strange having all this hair piled on top of my head. I reached up to touch it and Donna smacked my hand away. “Don’t you dare?” she said with a laugh.
“It’s weird,” I said, fidgeting.
“It’s beautiful” she said, reaching into her purse and taking out a compact. She snapped it open. “See... look.”
She angled it so I could see my hair and she was right, it was amazing. I’m not saying I thought it was beautiful but it was a lot better than it was before. It was just a lot to get used to. I didn’t really like all that hair; it was heavy and a pain to deal with. But having it up on my head like this it felt heavier but at least it was off my neck and back. It still made me nervous though. I looked way too much like a girl now. Like I said before I was hoping to go for the whole tomboy thing but looking like this there was little chance anyone would mistake me for a guy. Not that they did before but I was hoping to not stick out as much.
Donna frowned. “What’s wrong?” I asked
She shook her head, a tears in her eyes. She didn’t say anything but I knew she was upset about something. I took her in my arms and let her cry on my shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do. She sobbed through a few apologies. I’m not sure what she was talking about, she did nothing wrong. But she apologized for being pushy and for trying to set me up with Connor. I laughed. I wasn’t really mad about that stuff. It was kinda annoying but she was doing what she thought was right. I still planned on getting her back but now it wouldn’t be anything as drastic as I was planning before.
“She’s a bitch,” Donna finally said when she pulled away from me. “I called her last night to tell her about the Exhibit and she got pissed off about it.”
So this was about Barbara. I thought it might be. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”
Donna smiled. Then she wiped her tears and looked at the clock. It was getting close to three in the afternoon now. She made an eep sound then got to her feet. “You need to get into the bath right now,” she said, dragging me to my feet.
“What” I asked as she pushed me toward the stairs.
She didn’t say anything. She just grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the upstairs bathroom. She pushed me inside then started the bath water. She threw in some beads and things like that. The water started to foam up with suds. She ordered me to strip, which I did reluctantly. She let out an intake of breath when she saw my naked form. Her eyes lingered a bit longer than they should. I flushed and stepped into the water. She mumbled something about being “jealous” as I slowly sunk into the soothing suds. I couldn’t remember the last time I took a bath, especially a bubble bath. It felt good though, like childhood.
“Remember to keep your head above the water.”
I was in the bath about twenty minutes. When I got out there was a new robe waiting for me. I wonder if my grandma had something to do with it. I made my way to my room but Donna came around the corner and intercepted me. She led me downstairs instead. I could see she was starting to prepare herself, too. I don’t know why we were getting prepared so early, the Exhibit opening didn’t start for another four hours. But my Mom always got prepared several hours too early as well. I learned long ago not to question women when they did things like that and now I was one of them. So I followed Donna downstairs. The two of us sat on the couch and watched TV. We ended up watching the news. The local had nothing but the Exhibit opening. Bruce Wayne’s events always made the news; they were a big deal in the city. The newscaster was talking about everyone who was going to be there, the list was a mile long. Then the story shifted, going to another story about new billionairess Olivia Queen. Once again, the press was hounding her as she was trying to go somewhere.
“They’re like vultures,” said Donna as she flipped the channel. “Why don’t they leave the poor girl alone, she just lost her grandfather?”
After that, we watched some cartoons for a while. It was nice to be a kid for a little while. After about two hours or so of that, Donna shut off the TV and told me it was time to get ready. She led me upstairs where a pair of underwear was waiting. Just underwear, no bra. It wasn’t even proper underwear either; it was one of those thongs. I groaned. Donna quickly explained that I needed to wear them so no panty lines would show through the dress. So I dropped the robe and reluctantly put them on. It felt like I had a permanent wedgie. When I asked about the lack of bra, she said with a dress like mine I didn’t need one. That didn’t make me feel any better.
We didn’t dress right away. First she made me wear some dangly earrings and she put a necklace around my neck. Then she made me put on the dress. It was a lot tighter than I remember and left little to the imagination. She made me walk over to the tall mirror in the corner so I could get a good look at myself. I gulped but then found myself smiling really big. I looked amazing, better than amazing in fact. I was a knock out times ten. I wonder what Connor would think? I groaned. The girliness must be seeping into my brain now.
“You stay here and practice in those heels, I’m gonna get dressed.”
As soon as she dressed, I ran over and grabbed the phone. Grandma had a phone line installed in my room. She said it all teenage girls needed their own phones. There was already a jack in here from when Vanessa had this room but now it was one line, in my name. I opened the bedside table and took out the card there, dialing the number. When I heard a man’s voice on the other end, I smiled big. It was finally payback time.
After that, I slipped on the three-inch heels---like I needed to be any taller---and walked slowly around the room. I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Donna showed up about ten minutes later wearing a black dress that kinda sparkled, almost as if there were little stars woven into the fabric. She looked really pretty but even in her heels she was still shorter than me. She made me walk a few times for her to make sure I wasn’t going to fall and break my neck. Then the two of us headed downstairs. Of course, my grandma took pictures; this was a big deal apparently. After numerous flashes, Donna and I went and sat on the couch again.
At five, the doorbell rang. Donna got up to answer but I beat her too. It was kinda weird running in heels but I managed. I opened the door and smiled when I saw Jay standing there. He was wearing a black tux, his hair slicked back. He looked a little uncomfortable. I smiled evilly. “Hey, Jay” I said, ushering him inside. He was carrying a single rose and looked a bit nervous.
I walked him into the living room. Donna saw him and gave me a look. I smiled at her and I think she knew she’d been paid back. “Jay, this is my friend Donna, Donna, this is Jay.”
“Hi” they both said uncomfortably.
Donna shot me a look but all I could do was smile. “You two kids play nice.”
I left them in the living room together. It was a cruel thing to do, especially after she cried on my shoulder about Barbara. But it was a nasty thing for her to set me up with Connor. I’m sure she’d be pissed about it for a while but she’d get over it. I walked into the kitchen and my grandma frowned at me. I shrugged and sat at the kitchen table. She didn’t say anything but I could tell she wasn’t happy with what I did either. But I didn’t care. I was tired of Donna teasing me and trying to push me into things I wasn’t ready for. Did I feel bad about setting her up with Jay... nope? Who knows, she might have a good time and forget about Barbara, at least for one night anyway.
I sat at the kitchen table for a long time. My spirits were raised a bit when I heard laughing from the other room. That’s always a good sign. I knew the two of them could never hit it off but maybe they could become friends. My good mood evaporated as soon as I heard the doorbell ring. I looked at the clock on the wall; it was only quarter past five. It couldn’t be. Then Donna called from the living room.
“Cassie, Connor is here.”
I groaned and got to my feet. I walked out into the living room. At the sight of Connor standing there in his tux, his hair gelled, holding a bouquet. Ok, I’ll admit it, he looked good. I went weak at the knees a bit. My heart thumped and I found myself smiling. That is until I looked over at Donna and she had an evil smile too. I knew her game now. Touché and bring on round three. I smiled and nodded, tipping my head as to say bring it on. It never hurt to have a little rivalry between friends.
“I’m not early, am I?” he said, looking around. “Donna called and said to come now.”
“You’re not early,” I said, walking into the living room and taking his arm. “I just thought it would be cool if the two of us hung out a bit before we had to leave.”
“These are for you,” he said, handing me the flowers.
“Thanks” I said, taking them and giving them a sniff. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? “Let’s get some water for them.”
I led him into the kitchen. Grandma smiled when she saw them. Her eyes said it all. She was happy that Donna got me back so quickly.
I was shocked when the limo pulled up in front of our house. I guess I was just expecting us going to this thing in our own cars. It was kinda exciting actually; I’d never been in one before. Connor led me out, my arm looped in his. Jay and Donna followed. Why did they get along so well---they were both fans of a certain band apparently? I think I did good. But my excitement was short-lived when the driver got out and opened the door for us. There was already someone inside, two someone’s in fact. I’d been avoiding her for the last few days, even when she called asking for me. I refused to talk to her. I wonder if this was her idea or my grandma’s. But as soon as I saw my mother, I wanted to turn and run the other way. I looked back at the house---to my grandma in the doorway---she looked as surprised as I did.
“Miss?” asked the driver, waiting for me and Connor to get in.
I took a deep breath and grumbled. I let the driver take my hand and I slowly got into the limo, making sure to do it like a lady, just like Donna showed me earlier. I looked over at Mom. She was dressed in red---she usually dressed in red. Her hair was up like mine, her glasses were gone tonight. She owned contacts but rarely wore them. She said she didn’t care about her appearance but apparently, she did tonight. I have to admit she did look pretty but of course, she didn’t hold a candle to me. She knew it too. As soon as she saw me, her eyes widened a bit. I think she was shocked and surprised that her former son could outdo her.
I looked over at Jason and smiled. He was dressed in a tux too but no black tie for him. It was too formal and stuffy. He looked like he usually did. He was always very prim and proper, regal in fact. He came from England; he arrived here a few years ago on an exchange program and loved it so much he stayed. I think Mom had something to do with that. The two of them weren’t serious---in fact, they had a very open relationship---but I think he cared a lot more for her than she did him. Dating was a distraction to Mom and her work. Not that she didn’t spend a lot of time with him though. She called them “academic dates”, like she was afraid to call them what they really were. Looking at him, with his dark hair–silver at the sides---I could see what a lot of his female students saw. Jason was a fox, a little on the old side but still he was quite handsome.
I groaned, wondering if every guy I saw was going to be handsome now.
“Hi” he said, extending his hand. “I’m Jason Blood, your aunt’s boyfriend.”
I shook his hand and he winked. Clearly, grandma had filled Mom and Jason in on my fib. Mom didn’t look too happy about it but she could go to hell. I introduced myself as Mom’s “niece” then I introduced Connor, forgetting he and Jason already knew one another. The only one who didn’t know him was Jay.
It was a very uncomfortable ride into the city. My mother kept looking at me, glaring actually. I’m not sure what she thought was going to happen but clearly, she wasn’t expecting this. I kept giving her a smug look, daring her to say something. Not that I wanted to get into it with her but I was ready to fight if she was. But she didn’t say anything. Jason held her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. So clearly, he thought we were going to go at it too. I reached over and surprised Connor---and myself---by taking Connor’s hand. My mother’s eyes narrowed. I turned my face from her, looking out the window instead.
We finally pulled up to the museum after one of the most awkward rides I’d ever had. The Field used to be my home away from home. My mother used to spend loads of time there and I used to tag along. I used to love running up and down the halls when I younger. I mean it was a lot better than sitting in her stuffy office all day. I don’t think my Mom cared either way; it got me out of her hair. As I got older, she stopped bringing me then she started to spend more time at the college. By then I was kinda bored with the place anyway. The last time I’d been here was a month ago; I was still Charlie then and bored out of my mind. Tonight things looked to be different. The museum thrived on Galas. They got all decked out, even rolled out the red carpet.
Wayne Galas were even better. When our limo pulled up in front, a man in a red uniform came over and opened the door. Jason got out first followed by Mom. There were a lot of flashes. My Mom was partially known to the press. Tonight was big for her though, this was her event after all. Donna and Jay exited next, there was some flashes too. I took a deep breath when it got to my turn. As soon as Connor got out and then helped me, I let my breath out. The cameras went nuts for me. Microphones and video cameras were shoved in my face; reporters were throwing questions at me left and right. All of them wanted to know who I was. I tried to ignore them. I think they thought I was a model or something. It was kinda freaky.
I squeezed Connor’s arm, maybe a little too tightly. I heard him groan and saw him wince. I eased up a bit, forgetting about my super strength. He looked about as nervous as I was. We walked the carpet as fast as we could, following the precession on my Mom and Donna. I was so thankful when we walked up those steps and got inside. The Main room was decked out for a party, even the giant T-Rex skeleton looked like it was celebrating. I looked around, surprised at such a thing. I’d never been a to a gala here. I’d seen them a lot. The movie The Relic opened here years ago and it was surprising... things looked very similar, though there was a definite Grecian theme going on. The servers wore togas, carrying trays of delicacies that might belong in Ancient times.
I snatched a cream puff as one walked by me.
“There’s so many people,” said Connor, trying to make his way through the crowd like me.
“Wayne goes all out,” I said, trying to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. I didn’t.
I let my “date” lead me through the crowd. We followed Mom and Jason as they made the rounds. I was introduced to a lot of people as her “niece” Cassandra. A few of the academics asked where I was---me, being Charlie of course. My mother made up excuses, different ones for each person. It amazed me to see her in action, rubbing elbows. She was a different person when she got around her colleagues, likable almost. It didn’t matter that she hated most of them and vice versa. It was all about ass kissing tonight. My mother poured on the charm thick too; it made me sick watching her. When we got to the Mayor and his wife, Mom laughed at all their stupid jokes. I smiled and shook hands. I met the Mayor, the Governor, even Commissioner Gordon. I was actually happy to see him. He was an old poker buddy of grandpa’s. He used to come over to the house all the time, tried to talk me into joining the police force. But of course, I had to be re-introduced to him as Cassandra. It was kinda sad really. I knew a lot of people in the room---for years in face---but known of them knew the new me.
“Carter” My mom said, drawing the attention of one of her colleagues.
The man turned around and I smiled. Out of all of them, I liked Dr. Hall the best. He reminded me a lot of Daniel Jackson from Stargate. Partially because they were both Egyptologist but also because he kinda looked like him too. He and Mom had offices next door to one another. I loved him; he always had the best stories. Mom not so much. They butted heads some. I think he thought she was wasting her time, looking for the Amazons. She thought he was too obsessed with the Egyptian God Horus. Dr. Hall had a thing for birds, well hawks actually.
Tonight the two of them were pretending to be friends apparently.
“Helena” he said, taking her hand and kissing her on the cheek. “You look as lovely as ever.”
“I try,” said Mom then she turned to me. “This is my niece, Cassandra.”
“Nice to meet you, Dr. Hall” I said, shaking his hand. “I’m a great admirer of yours.”
I knew saying that would piss Mom off.
“Its always nice meet a fan, especially one as lovely as yourself”
My mom butted in. “Still looking for hawks and blue bugs?”
He didn’t take the bait. “Still looking for crazed feminist warriors?”
They glared at one another. Jason intervened. “Perhaps I should take the lady of the hour and get her a drink.”
“You’d be doing me a big favor,” said Carter, I tried to hide my smile.
Mom noticed and glared at both of us. Jason made some excuses and led her away. I stayed and talked with Dr. Hall for a few more minutes. I introduced Connor, who was just glad to be included, I think. Like I said before, this wasn’t really his thing. We talked a bit more then Dr. Hall excused himself to go mingle. After that, Connor and I did some mingling too. I looked around, staring at all the people. There were a lot of faces I didn’t know and some I did. There was a pair of security guards in the corner. I knew the older one, Frank; the younger guy was new to me. But he saw me looking and smiled. It was kinda creepy, especially because I thought he was kinda cute.
I looked around some more and noticed a refreshments table. My stomach grumbled and my throat was dry. “I’m going to get some punch.”
Connor nodded. “I’m going to see if I can find Jay.”
I nodded. In the living room, the two of them had struck up a conversation about the Chicago Bears. Connor was a big fan, Jay not so much. I watched as he disappeared into the crowd before I went off to the table. It was loaded with a lot of good stuff, centered around an ice sculpture of a Greek warrior. I grabbed a plate and started loading it up, my overeager appetite taking control for me. I might look like a freak but I didn’t care. I hadn’t eaten since lunch.
Someone cursed behind me. In Portuguese no less. I turned around and saw a guy standing there. He was shorter than me, with dark hair and a Hispanic complexion. He couldn’t have been more than twenty or so. I knew Portuguese quite well, having spent some time there with Mom a few years ago. I smiled and replied in the same language, surprising him.
“Wow” he said, switching to English. “Beautiful and bilingual.”
I smiled. “My mother travels a lot. You pick up a thing or two.”
He smiled too then looked at my plate. “It’s amazing to see a girl who isn’t afraid she’ll hurt her waistline.”
I smiled. “I have a fast metabolism.”
I nodded. “My girlfriend would die if she ate one of those things.”
“Most girls would”
As if on cue, the girl appeared. She slithered through the crowd, wrapping her arms around him from behind. She was pretty, if you liked them that way. She was shorter than him with hair so bleached it looked almost white. She was wearing a blue dress and a scowl. She looked me up and down, sizing me up.
“Bernardo” she said with a Swedish accent. “I thought you were getting me some punch, not flirting with strange women.”
“We weren’t flirting, Tora, it’s called having a conversation.”
I smiled and excused myself. There was no way I was getting in the middle of that. I wandered back through the crowd, looking for Connor. I found him and Jay sitting at a table, talking about football. I slipped into an empty chair. The two of them talked as if I wasn’t there. I rolled my eyes, men and their sports. Wait, I did not just think that. I groaned and started stuffing my face. I ate for a while, downed the glass of punch in one gulp. They continued to talk or argue rather. Jay was a Patriots fan apparently. I listened to them for a bit until I felt my bladder begin to fill. I excused myself, not that either of them seemed to notice.
I got up and started weaving my way through the crowd. I knew where the bathrooms were but I was hoping to avoid them. I’d been in bathroom publically only once or twice after my change. I hated it. It felt weird and foreign being in the girls’ bathroom, like I was an impostor or something. As I approached, I groaned, noticing a small line. I didn’t want to wait for that. I looked around, noticing that Frank and the young blonde security guard were standing next to the stairs. There was a bathroom downstairs near my Mom’s office; I used it all the time. But the only problem was getting past the two of them. I took a deep breath and put a little sway in my walk.
The blonde guard smiled as I approached. “What can I do for you little lady?”
"There’s such a long line at the ladies,” I said, laying it on thick.
“You think you guys can let me down there for a second?”
“I’m sorry we can’t do that miss?” said Frank.
The blonde smiled. “C’mon Frank, she’s just one girl. She’ll be up and down in no time.”
I nodded, pressing my hands together, pleading. “It’ll be one sec, please?”
Frank stayed stern for a second. Then his resolve melted. “You have five minutes and then I’m sending Mike here down to get you.”
I smiled and kissed Frank on the cheek. “You’re the best.”
I felt kinda dirty when the two of them let me down the stairs. I couldn’t believe I flirted like that just to use a bathroom. But I really had to go and there was no way I was waiting for it. So I slowly minced down the stairs. The damn heels prevented me from taking them two at a time. My mother hated that they put her office in the basement but she wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of academics like her down there. She should have been glad they gave her an office at all, what with her only working her part of the time. But she still griped about it, her office at the university was much bigger. It was also on the second floor of the Humanities building.
I made it to the bottom of the stairs and pushed the usually heavy door open. It was no longer heavy anymore. The hall was dark but I knew my way. I’d been down here lots of time, enough time to navigate it even in the pitch black. When I was younger, I used to make a game out of counting all the doors. There were six offices between the stairs and my mother’s. As I walked along in the dark, moving slowly so I wouldn’t trip in the damn heels, I found the bathroom in-between the second office and the third. It was a unisex so I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable inside. I flicked on the light, glad for some illumination.
I peed quickly, sighing in relief. Then situated myself and flushed. As I was washing my hands, I thought I heard something. I shut off the water and listened. Maybe it was just my imagination. I finished washing my hands and left the bathroom. I got about three feet when I heard the same something again. It sounded like rustling papers and faint footsteps. I turned around; the noise was coming down the hall. I started walking and stumbled. I cursed and pulled off my shoes, realizing that heels were no good in the dark. Besides if someone was down here then the tapping would surely draw their attention. I carried my shoes as I crept slowly toward the noise. I passed one office after another. I think I was a bit surprised when I finally came to the door where it was coming from. It was my Mom’s office. Underneath the door, I saw a faint light. I cursed. Someone was in her office, someone who shouldn’t be.
I counted to three and kicked the door open, hoping for the element of surprise. I didn’t have it. In fact, whoever was in there, they were waiting for me. I saw them, there were at least two. They were illuminated by the dim glow of a penlight---each held one. They were shrouded in black from head to toe, the only thing visible were their eyes. I saw them for only a split second though. Because there weren’t two people, there were three. The third dropped down from above, swinging down from the ceiling, he was probably hiding above the door. He slammed his feet into my chest, sending me flying into the hall. I slammed into the far wall, cracking the concrete. I got the wind knocked out of me a bit but it didn’t hurt much.
In the dark, I was at a bit of a disadvantage. They weren’t, apparently. The one who kicked me came at me again. I know that because a foot went into my chest again, followed a second later by a blow to my head. I stumbled, losing balance. I shook off the blows, they were nothing. Another came at me and instinct took over. I threw up my arm and blocked it. Then I lashed out, driving a punch through the air. At first, I thought I connected with them but it was actually the wall. Concrete shattered under the sheer force of my punch. My hand stung like a son of bitch. I shook off the pain. Another blow came from behind at the same time as from front, telling me two different people were now attacking me.
They landed a few more blows. From behind, it was in the kidneys, from front it was in my sternum. I roared with anger, snapping my head back. I finally connected with a person. I heard a muffled wail and a crunch, it sounded like I broke a nose maybe. I smiled, good. The blows kept coming though. The one I face slammed seemed to disappear but someone took his place. I snapped around and swung but it was clumsy and got nothing but air. I got kicked in the ribs for that. I got kicked in the face too. Then in the knees. I fell to the ground and got kicked in the chest. I blocked the ones that went for my face though. There were at least three people now, all kicking at me at once.
The only thing I could was block. The dark was clearly an advantage to them. Then it stopped. I heard a voice, a stern one. I couldn’t tell much but it was muffled but I could tell one thing. The person, whoever they were, were speaking in Greek. He appeared to be the leader because he told the others to pull back and then they were gone. I got to my feet and stumbled a bit. I never thought I could get pummeled like that. I thought, well I’m not sure what I thought. But these guys were fast and apparently, they could see in the dark.
I stumbled over to my mom’s office and flicked on the light. It was ransacked but I couldn’t tell if they got anything or not. What the hell were they looking for anyway?
“Hold it right there” said a shaky voice from behind me.
I stepped out into the hall and a light hit me in the face. It was Frank and his young partner; both men had their hands on their tazers. Frank moved his hand. I held mine up. “I’m not the bad guy here,” I said, showing them I was no threat.
“Miss, are you all right?”
I shook my head. “No, I got my ass kicked.”
“How many were there?” asked Cameron as she handed me a glass of water.
I downed it before answering. “I don’t maybe four or five.”
There was a group of us in one of the conference rooms. After Frank and his partner Mike found me, they called it in. It didn’t take long, seeing as the commissioner and half his force was there anyway. Jay called Cameron and she got there pretty quick. Connor had brought me some ice for my head and my lip. That’s all the damage they did besides the few bruises and scrapes. I think everyone was a bit surprised except for those in the know of course. I don’t think Cameron was really happy with me at the moment but there was nothing she could say until we were alone.
The Commissioner personally went down to the basement with my mother so they could see if anything was taken. They were down there now with a few of his men. I was sitting at the conference table with Cameron; Connor was on my right, Donna on my left. Donna was holding my hand. Jay was on the phone; Jason was pouring me another glass of water. The only person in the room was sitting there, looking at me strangely. I think I might have mentioned meeting Bruce Wayne once. When I met him the first time I was surprised by how young he was. He probably wasn’t the youngest billionaire in the country---that spot went to Mark Zuckerberg of facebook or at least it did until a couple of days ago when Olivia Queen took the title from him. But Wayne was definitely one of the younger ones; he couldn’t have been more than thirty.
His tuxedo jacket was on the back of the chair next to him, his sleeves rolled up and his tie was missing. He kept looking at me too, I’m not sure why.
Finally he spoke. “I’m surprised they didn’t do more damage, Miss Sandsmark?”
I smiled, shifted the ice pack to the other side of my head. “I got lucky.”
He smiled and winked. “Very lucky it would seem.”
Then he got to his feet and scooped up his jacket. He walked over to me, bending down a bit in front of me when he spoke. “If you run into those friends of yours again, you let me know.” Then a little bit louder, he said. “I have an excellent medical facility here in the city if you need it.”
I was a bit confused but recovered quickly. “I’m good.”
He took my hand and kissed it. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Cassie.”
Then he turned and walked out the door, an elderly gentleman standing near it turned and followed him out. I watched them go, wondering what all that just meant. Did he know I was a you-know-what? Cameron watched him go too, she pursed her lips. I think she was a little confused about him too. Then she turned back toward me and asked a few more simple questions. I answered as best as I could, trying not to reveal too much. For the benefit of everyone in the room, she was pretending to be an FBI Agent. Of course, four of us knew who she really was. I’m not sure why she was putting a show on for Connor and Mr. Wayne, even though I think he probably knew the truth.
“Miss Sandsmark” she said, getting to her feet. “If you have any more questions, give me a call.”
She handed me one of her business cards. “Thank you, Agent Chase.”
She smiled at everyone in the room and left.
No one said much after she left. About twenty later, Mom and Commissioner Gordon returned. I think the Commissioner was surprised that the FBI agent was gone but he recovered quickly. I wonder if he knew who she really was too. One of his men questioned me after that, asking me some generic questions. I answered them all, playing up the damsel in distress pretty well. My mom kept giving me a look that I tried to avoid. It was the same one she gave me back in Greece but there was a little sorrow in there too. This time she didn’t try to hide it. Was she really worried about me? I stared at her the whole time the officer talked to me, she didn’t look away.
“Miss Sandsmark” said the Commissioner once the officer was finished. “You are a real trooper, very resilient. You remind me of my own daughter.”
I smiled. “Thank you sir.”
He nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I best be on my way.”
When he left the room, it was very awkward indeed. None of us said much. We didn’t stay there very long after Gordon left. We lingered at the party for a bit more but we were all partied out, especially me. Mom made her little speech, Connor and I danced a bit. Jay and Donna danced too. Our group left around ten thirty. The limo brought Mom home first. She turned back and looked at me as she got out. I thought I saw a tear in her eye but she turned away before I could get a better look.
“She’s worried about you kid,” said Jason softly in my ear.
“I wish she’d show it every once in a while.”
He gave my shoulder a squeeze. Then we dropped him off, he lived a few blocks from her. Connor got dropped off next; I got out of the limo with him. I made sure no one was looking when I pecked him on the cheek.
“That was fun,” he said sheepishly. “I’m not sure I liked the part where those guys nearly killed you but it was still really fun.”
I smiled. “They caught me off guard.”
He laughed. “You are so much like your cousin.”
I smiled. Then I did something I knew I was going to regret. I leaned forward and gave him a soft peck on the lips. It was harmless but it felt really good. I think I ruined it a few seconds later without even realizing it. “See ya later, Clone.”
I knew I blew it as soon as I said it. Clone was a nickname I used to call him, that only I called him. He pulled away and looked confused. I wanted to cry. Instead, I pushed him away and got back into the limo. I yelled at the driver to go. I heard Connor call my name, I’m just not sure which one it was.
I’m such a God damn idiot. I fell into Donna’s lap and cried.
“Are you sure you’re going to be ok?” asked Donna as she sat down at the kitchen table.
I wanted to tell her I was going to be fine but that would be a lie. Instead, I pushed my eggs around the plate, not hungry for the first time in days. How could I eat after what happened last night? I screwed up, I screwed up big time. There was one thing I swore I’d never do and that was to tell anyone who I once was. Then I went and stupidly called Connor that name. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never wanted to talk to me again. I wouldn’t want to talk to someone who’s lied to you for almost a week and then kissed you. To make matters worse, he just found out I was his best friend in the whole wide world. When we got home last night, I cried myself to sleep on Donna’s lap.
When I woke up this morning, I was in my bed, dressed in my sleeping shirt.
Donna groaned, causing me to drop my fork. “You’re making me depressed.”
I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe I was so damn stupid last night. I’d been so careful around Connor too, and in one moment of slight weakness, I ruined it all. I guess I got caught up in things, found something familiar about it all. He and I used to do a lot together---not that I’d ever kissed him. I’m not sure why I did that. But we were like brothers once. It was only a matter of time before I slipped up. It was one of the reasons I was hoping to avoid him. Now I could never go anywhere near him again. I’m not sure what I was going to do in school come Monday but there was just no way I could see his face, not after last night.
“Sweetie” my grandma said as she sat down next to me. “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. I’m sure the boy didn’t even notice and if he did, I’m sure you could explain things to him.”
“Explain things,” I said, on the verge of hysterics. “I’m his best friend, his best guy friend and I kissed him.”
My grandma smiled and took my hand. “Sweetheart, you’re not a boy anymore.”
I groaned. “I’m also a liar.”
“You’re not a liar,” said Donna “you’re someone who’s gone through a very monumental change in your life and have a lot of things that you can’t tell people.”
Donna reached over the table and gave me a one armed hug. Then she gently helped me out of my chair, pushing me toward the living room. I didn’t know what she was planning until she pushed me on the couch. She grabbed the living room handset and held it out for me. It took me a second to catch on and then I shook my head. There was no way I was going to call him. He’d slam the phone in my ear. Donna gave me a look, she even stomped her foot. I wanted to tell her to butt out and mind her own damn business. After all this was partially her fault. If she hadn’t invited him for me then I wouldn’t be in this trouble in the first place. Ok, so that’s not true. I’d eventually slip up around him; I was just hoping it’d be like at high school graduation and then I’d never have to see him again.
“Call him,” she said, tossing the phone at me.
My inhuman reflexes caused me to catch it even though I didn’t want to. Thankfully, she didn’t stay in the room. Instead, she turned and walked back into the kitchen. I didn’t call right away. Instead, I held the phone for a bit and tried to think of what to say. “Hey Connor, it’s your old pal Charlie. Why do I sound like a girl, well it’s a funny story actually” No, I don’t think that would go over so well. In fact, I almost called with that exact same line back when this all started, before Cameron started to set the ground rules. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone who I really was it just made things very difficult for the government to do so.
After twenty minutes, I finally got up the courage to do it when the damn thing rang in my hand. I nearly had a heart attack. After calming a bit---about the third ring---I answered. “Hello?” I asked, my heart still racing a bit.
“Cassie?” asked a familiar voice, unfortunately not the one I was hoping for. “Hey, where did you go the other night?”
Great, the other person I was trying to avoid.
“Hey Artemis” I said, biting my lip. “I’m sorry about the thing. After I went to the bathroom, I stepped out for some air. I walked down the sidewalk a bit and then someone tried to mug me.”
I wasn’t lying. After all someone did try to mug me.
There was a loud pause, at first I thought she hung up. After all, how do you tell someone that you think their group is bogus?
Then I heard her sigh. “You’re kidding” she finally said, there was some relief in her voice. “We thought you bailed on us.”
We had a laugh. Then she wanted me to tell her all about the mugging. So I did. I left out the part where I kicked the guy’s ass, of course. Instead, I said he took my wallet---I don’t carry a purse, yet---then he ran off. I’m not sure where he went after that. Then she starting talking about the mugger on the news, the one the police caught only a few doors down from the spa. She started to wonder if it was the same guy. I played along with her for a bit, telling her that it was possible. She told me I should head down to the police station the next time I was in the city to see if the police recovered my wallet. She even agreed to tag along if I needed some moral support. A part of me was kinda happy that she wasn’t pissed at me. I might not like the group she belonged to, but I kinda liked her.
I didn’t have many friends besides her, Cissie and Amy. I can’t count Connor in that bunch anymore, not after last night anyway.
“There’s something cool coming up in a couple of days,” Artemis said finally, laughing. “We’re going to Bay City. It’s not connected to the spa but Antiope is got us some backstage passes to a concert there, she even has pull in this hotel so the seven of us can stay there.”
Artemis laughed. “You’re coming too, Antiope insisted. She said it would help you get to know us better, some girl bonding time.”
I laughed. I wonder what she was up too. “Sounds like fun.”
It actually did. No one ever invited me to a concert when I was Charlie. I’d just have to look over the fact that it was connected to that woman. We talked for a few more minutes. She wanted to know if I’d join them for another run, possibly tomorrow afternoon. I promised I’d be there then the other line beeped. I groaned, would the world let me call Connor please. I said my goodbyes to Artemis then switched over.
“Cassie” said another familiar voice, Cissie this time. “Hey, how’s it going?”
I cursed in my head. I’d completely forgotten about today. I bit my lip. I wasn’t in the mood for it today but I did promise. “Hey Cissie you all set?”
She sighed inwardly. I think she thought I was going to back out. “Its ok if you don’t want to…ummm…we can do it some other time.”
I laughed. “I promised today so we’ll do it today.”
“Ok” she said, sighing again.
“Cissie, it’s going to be ok.”
I asked her address, forgetting that she actually lived in The Gates too. Her house wasn’t very far actually, just around the corner. I scribbled down the address and told her I’d call us a cab. Then I hung up, setting the phone down. It took me a minute or two to get up enough nerve to call Connor again. I tried his home phone first but it rang and rang. I waited until I heard his cousin’s voice on the answer machine before I hung up. Then I tried his cell but it went to voice mail too. I cursed, clicking the phone off. I went to call him again but the doorbell rang.
Son of a bitch, now what. I stormed over to the door and yanked it open. Connor was standing there, his cheeks were red and looking at the porch, I could see that he’d been walking in place, a lot. It was clear he’d been here for at least a couple of minutes.
“Hey” he said awkwardly.
“Hey” I said, screaming inside my head.
“Ummm…I think you and I should talk Cassie” I nodded. “Or is it Charlie?”
And it gets better.
“Why are we going to Eddie’s?” he asked as we got into his truck.
“Cissie’s madly in love with him. She’s been worrying about him all week.”
Neither one of us were willing to talk about what was important. It was like we had a big secret and we wanted to tell the other but just couldn’t. He figured it out; I suppose it didn’t take a genius. What surprised me though was his reaction. He didn’t seem angry to me. He looked a little confused but not angry. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or bad. I never really saw him get angry before, except at his Dad. The two of them used to fight all the time. One would say something awful, the other would say something worse and they’d storm out of the room. It was similar to some of the stuff that happened between Mom and me, except with actually talking.
We drove in silence around the block, neither one of us sure what to say. I was happy with it, sitting here, pretending that what he knew he didn’t actually know. But my happiness was short-lived. I could almost see Cissie’s house when he slammed on the brakes. Ok, he didn’t slam on them but he did stop kinda abruptly. I jerked forward a bit, thank Hera for the seatbelt. He smiled apologetically at me then grimaced, realizing what he was doing. He stared for a bit, looking me up and down. He squinted, getting a real good look at me. When he called me Charlie on the doorstep, I neither confirmed nor denied it. I was a little stunned.
Now I was waiting for him to make the next move.
I didn’t have to wait long. “So, are you or aren’t you?”
I opened my mouth and closed it quickly. I took a deep breath and nodded. “I am.”
“Shit” he said, his face turning a bit pale. “You confused the hell out of me last night, blurting that out right after you kissed me. You kissed me by the way, that didn’t just happen in my head, right?” I shook my head. He sighed again. “Damn, this is so…”
He rubbed his temples. I wanted to hold his hand but that would have really screwed things up. I’m not sure what I wanted to do it either but it just felt like the right thing to do. I think the girl hormones were starting to affect my mind. I barely thought like a guy anymore, it was really starting to freak me out.
He spoke again. It was good he was doing all the talking. “So how long?”
I shrugged. “Not long.”
“Did you take pills and have surgery?”
I laughed, I couldn’t help it. I’m not sure he liked that or not. “Yeah, Connor” I said, waving my hands up and down my buddy. “This is all the miracle of modern science.” I think he got my sarcasm. “I’m…well…the official term is Metahuman.”
Connor’s eyes got big. “Like those girls on TV?” I nodded “I knew there was something so familiar about you. Not the way you look of course but the way you acted and interacted with me. Then when you called me Clone last night, I knew it. There was no way Charlie would have told anyone that.”
It was after all our own private joke. All his life, Connor had been compared to his father. It was really hard not to do, actually. They were both football stars, both popular but whereas his Dad kinda liked the popularity, Connor didn’t. But it didn’t matter to everyone else because everyone around him had already made up their minds about Connor Kent. They kept calling him his “father’s son” and things like that. So I jokingly called him “Clone” once. It was all in good fun and we had a laugh about it. It was my nickname for him and in return he called me “Shrimp” We swore we’d never tell anyone---including our families---about those names.
He was ready for more questions. “So do all Metas turn from guys to girls?” I shrugged. “What about your powers?”
I bit my lip. I wasn’t ready to play twenty questions, at least not here. I looked toward Cissie’s house, I’m sure she was wondering where I was. I took a deep breath. “I’ll explain everything to you later but right now I think you and I need to help Cissie first.”
He looked ready to argue but I gave him a look. It was a similar one that I knew his cousin Kara gave him when she wanted him to do something. He frowned and started the truck back up. I smiled sweetly at him and the two of us continued toward Cissie’s house.
The King-Jones household was a split level ranch like a good portion of the homes in this development. But unlike most, it was a lot bigger than most. It had about four bedrooms and a garage that was detached from the home like mine. Unlike mine, there was a big tree in the backyard where Cissie’s father built her a tree house. When we were younger Cissie, Connor and I all used to play up there for hours. Like I said before, things grew apart when we got older. But part of that had to do with the fact that Cissie’s mother started to distrust people after her husband got into trouble. When I was younger I had no idea what that meant. But a few years ago, my grandpa told me he got involved with insider trading. Then he fled the country.
After that, Cissie was a different person. Her mother went into a little depression and we weren’t allowed to come over for a while. When her mother recovered, things were different. Cissie started concentrating on her academics and had no time for foolish games. Her mother had the tree house dismantled and Cissie was put on the fast track to adulthood. Luckily, for them though, her mother had a really good paying job and her own separate bank account or else they probably would have gone down with the father.
When we pulled up in front of the house, it felt kinda strange. It used to be yellow but now it was a dismal gray. It was like when her mother went into a depression everything else around her did too. I wanted to make a crack about good times but I’m not sure it was appropriate given the circumstances. We waited a few minutes for Cissie. Connor was about to lay on the horn when she came out. She moved quickly as if she was running from something. I looked toward the house and caught her mother staring at us from one of the upstairs windows. I shuddered. That woman gave me the creeps long before she went off the deep end.
Cissie paused when she saw Connor. I rolled down the window and waved. Her expression changed from surprise to happiness. She ran toward the truck and I slid over into the middle seat, allowing her room in the cab. It was kinda uncomfortable but it would only be for a few minutes. I was instantly aware of the fact of how close Connor and I were together now. My shoulder brushed his side, his arm bumped my cheek.
“Sorry” he said softly, repositioning himself. I nodded numbly.
“Ummm, thanks for this, guys,” said Cissie as we started down the road.
“Anytime” Connor and I said together.
It turns out that Eddie didn’t live all that far from The Gates. After we left the development, we took a right. I knew the area we were going to only vaguely. I ran through there sometimes on my way to the park. The development wasn’t as big as ours and of course it wasn’t gated but it was still a nice place to live. As we drove, I asked Connor about Eddie some more. He told me some things but there wasn’t much. Cissie talked a little bit about him too; when she spoke, she blushed a bit. Only an idiot wouldn’t be able to see that there was something there. It was kinda cute actually. Here she was being bullied by him and she had a crush on him. I think I might have mentioned how immature I thought Eddie was because it was kinda clear that he was harboring feelings for her too.
When we got to the house we found ourselves in front of another ranch style home, they seemed to all the rage around here. Except it wasn’t nearly as big as Cissie’s. She got out of the truck first, practically flying out of it in fact. I followed slowly with a reluctant Connor behind me dragging his feet. I fought back the urge to linger behind and take his hand. I did look back at him though and our eyes locked. I knew there that he felt something too. It was hard to deny it after all. It didn’t matter that we were friends, best male friends before. I had feelings for him and he had them for me. I knew it the moment I saw him in the mall. I should have ended it then but he was the only friend I had before and I just couldn’t get rid of him that easily.
We stared at each other for a few seconds more before he finally looked away. I wanted to cry, this hurt so much.
When I looked forward, Cissie was already on the porch ringing the doorbell. A blonde woman answered, she, must have been Eddie’s mother. His father must have been the Jewish one and Eddie must have gotten his features from her. Because the two of them looked so much alike, it was uncanny.
“Hello, Mrs. Bloomberg?” asked Cissie nervously, the woman nodded. “I’m Cissie King-Jones, a friend of Eddie’s from school.”
The woman sighed. “Eddie isn’t feeling well. I don’t think it’s a good idea that he sees any friends at the moment,”
“Please Mrs. Bloomberg” pleaded Cissie.
The woman looked beyond her and over at me and Connor as we came walking up. Her expression changed when she saw Connor. Her face lit up. “Connor, so good to see you again.”
He smiled. “Hey, Mrs. B” he said, giving her an award winning smile. “You think you can let me and the lovely ladies see Ed for a few minutes. We’ll be quick, I promise.”
She flushed and I rolled my eyes. Connor even had that effect on older women too.
“Only a few minutes though,” she said, stepping aside and holding the door open for us.
Cissie went first followed by Connor and me. When I looked at Mrs. B, I noticed a bandage wrapped around her arm. When she caught me staring, she turned away, dropping her arm quickly. It was kinda weird but this whole day had been weird for me. I smiled at her. She stared up at me for a few seconds then smiled too.
“Eddie is in the basement, you know the way right, Connor?”
He nodded. “Sure do, Mrs. B.”
She left us to it then as Connor led us. There was no door to the Bloomberg’s basement it was an archway with some stairs that led down. Connor explained it was more like a Rec Room than anything else. It had a pool table, a dartboard, and a big flat screen. They watched a lot of games down there too. As we headed down the stairs, the first thing I noticed was the dark. Connor frowned and flipped the switch but nothing happened. I squinted into the dark. If Eddie was down here then he’d suddenly gone vampire. Connor tried the switch again.
“I shut the power off,” said a voice from the dark.
It sounded like Eddie but there was something else too it, a grumble maybe. It definitely sounded deeper, like he’d gone through a second puberty. Cissie grabbed my hand; her palms were sweaty.
“Eddie?” she asked, her voice soft and sweet.
There was a pause and then: “Cissie?”
She nodded even though in the dark he probably couldn’t see her. So instead she stepped a little bit into the room, I went with her. “I…I mean…we were worried about you. You’ve been sick for a few days so we thought we might come and check on you. Your mother has been picking up your homework every day which usually means a prolonged illness.”
There was a cough. “I’m ok,” said his voice, trembling a bit.
Cissie squeezed my hand. We stepped a little further into the room, walking into something about waist high and hard. For a second I wasn’t sure what it was until I felt around it with my hand. It was the pool table that Connor mentioned. I squinted into the dark, wondering where our would-be host was hiding. It kinda freaked me out, especially being in the dark for the second time in two days. I looked behind me for Connor. I couldn’t see him at first until I felt someone take my hand. I felt his presence next to me. I wanted to flinch and pull away but it felt kinda right.
“You don’t sound ok,” said Cissie, letting go of my hand.
I heard movement in front of us. Cissie heard it too. She stepped forward, moving a little too fast for Eddie I think. There was some stumbling and I smelt something, something burning. He cursed. Cissie took another quick step into the room.
“DON’T COME ANY CLOSER,” he shouted.
She stumbled backwards then burst into tears. I found her in the dark and she cried into my chest. He just scared the hell out of her and that kinda pissed me off. Hiding in the dark or not, there was no way I was going to let him hurt her. I took a deep breath, pulled her away from me and stormed into the dark. This hide and seek game was pissing me off anyways. I heard him stumbling, trying to get away from me. There was a crash, some more burning and then more cursing. I followed the noise, it was close. I took a chance and moved to intercept. I caught him. He ran into me, falling on his butt. I groped in the dark and found him, my hand grabbing his forearm.
As soon as I did so, I felt an intense heat underneath his skin. Then his hand grabbed my wrist, pulling away my arm. As soon as his fingers touched my skin, it burned like crazy. I cursed and stumbled back, my arm felt like it was on fire.
“Damn it” he said, scrambling to his feet. “I did it again. I’m so sorry Cassie, I didn’t mean it.”
I felt my arm, at the place where I should have been burned. My skin was a little tender but it didn’t hurt anymore. Then his words came to me, how he did it again. It suddenly dawned on me why his mother had a bandage wrapped around her forearm. He burned her; he burned her by touching her. I took a deep breath, trying to wrap my head around it. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened to poor Eddie Bloomberg. He was like me now, one of the few, I guess. Not that we were kindred or anything---he still sounded like a guy---but we were a part of a new group. I bit my lip and looked behind me, searching the dark for Connor.
“Connor, can you take Cissie upstairs for a few minutes?”
“Are you all right?” he asked, there was genuine concern in his voice.
“I’m good. But I need to talk to Eddie alone for a few minutes.”
I listened as Connor stumbled about and found Cissie. Then I heard the two of them walking up the stairs. I waited to make sure then I turned back to where I thought Eddie was. “You aren’t sick, are you?”
He sighed. “Something’s happened to me, something bad.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“You still sound like you.”
He laughed; there was a gruffness to it. “I am still me in a way just a little different.”
I sighed. “I mean you don’t sound like a girl.”
“A girl? Why would I be a girl?”
I groaned. That was so unfair. I get Meta powers and a sex change. He gets Meta powers and whatever. I took a deep breath. “Eddie, can we turn on the light?”
“No” he said, angrily and quickly.
I took another deep breath. This was going to be difficult. “In order for me to understand what’s going on, I need you to turn on the light for me.”
There was a long pause. Then a sigh. “If I do it then you have to promise not to tell anyone what you see, including Cissie.”
I smiled. “I promise.”
There was some shuffling. He moved away from me and to somewhere I couldn’t see, probably toward the power box. After a minute or two, the power came back on in the room. What I saw caused me to gasp, I couldn’t help. Standing in the corner, draped in nothing but a blanket and tattered jeans was something that could only be described as a demon. It was tall and red with black horns and yellow eyes. It had shoulder length white hair, long fingernails and a forked tail---about two feet long---dangling around the back of its legs. It had human feet though which I suppose could have been the only normal thing about it. I groaned, I couldn’t keep calling it an “it” It wasn’t an “it”, it was Eddie. Sorry, no more confusion, I swear.
“Oh my God” I said, finally finding my voice.
He smirked, revealing sharp canine like incisors. “Now you know why I kept the lights off.”
I nodded numbly and took a step toward him. He stepped back, forcing himself into a corner. “Get away from me” he said harshly, giving me some pause. “I’m sorry but when I touch people, it burns them.”
I looked down at my arm where he touched me. It was a little red but there were no burn marks. I held up my arm, showing him that he didn’t hurt me. His eyes widened a bit. He knew that’s where he touched me. “I’m not like normal people.”
He didn’t say anything so I decided to demonstrate. I figured seeing that we were in the same boat there was no reason to keep things from him. I walked over to the pool table and scooped up the eight ball. I rolled it around in my fingers then showed it to him with my palm open. He nodded. Then I closed my fingers around it and squeezed. The eight ball shattered to dust in my hand. Eddie’s mouth dropped open, revealing more of his sharp teeth. I smiled, opening my hand and allowing eight ball dust to drift to the floor.
“Holy shit” he said, backing away from the corner a bit. Then he looked down at his crotch and frowned. “You could of castrated me before.”
We both laughed. I pointed to the couch but he didn’t follow. Instead, I walked over and sat on the arm. Then I told him my story, I left out the Goddess part though. I wanted him to think that I was a regular Meta just like him. It took a lot longer than I thought actually. He listened and nodded a lot, probably noticing some similarities to his own story. When I finished, he let out a loud sigh.
“So you were a dude before?” I nodded. “That sucks.”
I smirked. “You get used to it I suppose.”
“And does anyone else know?”
I nodded. “My family and my friend Donna. Connor knows now too, well some of it anyway.”
He nodded. “And these government people you mentioned, will they come looking for me, too?”
I shrugged. “I think as long as you remain hidden and don’t use your powers, they’ll leave you alone. They were only interested in me because of what I did in Greece.”
After that, the two of us talked. He wanted to know what else I could do so I told him about the bullet deflection thing and my super endurance, if you want to call it that. Then I asked him about his powers, besides the burning flesh thing. But he didn’t know what else. He said he was afraid he was going to burn the house down if he tried experimenting. After he changed and burned his mother, he retreated down here into the basement. He flipped the switch on the power box and has been sitting down here in the dark ever since. That was a couple of days ago, his Mom brought him meals but that was the only human contact he had.
“Do you want to show others?” I asked and he shrugged.
“Don’t you think people would freak?” he asked, waving his hand over his body. “I mean you went from a dude into a super model. Me, I went from guy into Satan.”
I laughed, I couldn’t help it. “You’re not Satan, you’re a Red Devil.”
He smirked. “Kinda poetic I guess. My mother used to call me her little devil when I was younger because I always got into trouble.”
We both laughed. Then I spent the next few minutes trying to convince him to allow others to see him. I thought if he started small at first and worked his way up. He wasn’t sure. “How about Connor and Cissie?”
He frowned when I mentioned Cissie. I took a chance. “How can you date a girl if she can’t see you?”
If he flushed, I’m not sure because he was already red to begin with. Instead, he sighed. “You don’t think she’d freak?”
I shook my head. Cissie was cool and open-minded. At least I thought she was. I took a deep breath and told him to sit tight. Before he could say yes or no, I went up the stairs. Connor, Cissie and Mrs. B were sitting in the living room drinking hot chocolate. Mrs. B gave me a longing look and I smiled at her. She saw it in my face, knowing I’d seen what he’d been hiding. She let out a sigh of relief, probably glad that I didn’t run out of there screaming. Cissie gave me a look too. I smiled at her, trying to read her. Would she be willing to except him now? Well there were was only one way to find out.
“He wants to see Cissie and Connor”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good…”
I raised my hand. “He’s ok with it, well he’s a bit nervous but I talked with him about it and I think it’ll be ok.”
I looked at Connor. He looked confused until I nodded so he smiled. Cissie looked a bit confused too but I think she understood. At least some it anyway. I led the way down the stairs. When we got down there, Cissie holding my hand, Eddie was covered in his blanket. The lights were still on so that was a good sign. He turned around slowly, his tail sticking out of the fabric. That’s the first thing Connor and Cissie saw actually. Cissie squeezed my hand but I think she was going to be all right. Then Eddie dropped the blanket, both of them gasped. No one did or said anything for about a minute. Cissie did tighten her grip a bit but at least she didn’t scream or run crazy out of the room.
Connor broke the silence. “Dude” he said softly then a few seconds later, he added. “That’s so awesome. Are you a Meta too now?”
Eddie visually relaxed and nodded. Connor looked like he’d just won the lottery and why not. Two of his friends just confessed their superhero powers to him in one day. He was probably on Cloud Nine. Cissie on the other hand, I’m not sure what she was thinking. She was still holding my hand and staring. I think she was trying to figure out if the person standing in front of her was still Eddie. He looked at her, searching her face. Then he smiled. I think that’s what did it for her. Her grip on my hand relaxed and she sighed.
“Eddie, is that really you?”
“Hey Cis” he said sheepishly.
She let go of my hand and slowly walked over to him. He made a motion for her not to come any closer. Then the two of them talked. He told her about his inability to touch people now and she listened intently. I decided then that it might be a good time for the two of us to leave. Connor didn’t know what was going on until I grabbed his arm and pulled him up the stairs. Mrs. B stood up from the couch when the two of us reappeared.
“Is everything all right?”
I nodded. “He and Cissie are talking, it might be a while.”
Mrs. B. sighed then smiled. She looked at the two of us. “If you two want to go I can give her a ride home later.”
I answered for Connor. “That would be great; the two of us have some things to talk about anyway.”
I grabbed Connor’s arm and dragged him toward the door.
We went out to his truck, me pulling him along. I don’t think he cared much for it but I was in a rush. After seeing Cissie with Eddie, I was in a talking mood. I wanted to get all my cards out on the table and see what he thought. I wanted to renew this friendship and hope that it could survive this little bump. I also wanted to see if there was anything more to it as well. I know it was weird and it creeped me out but I couldn’t help feeling for him. I think he felt the same. He kept looking at me, glancing ever so slyly as he started the truck. He put it in reverse and started back toward my house but I wasn’t ready to go home yet.
“Not there, let’s go someplace else.”
“Any place special?”
I shook my head. “Some place where you and I can talk.”
He smiled and went in the opposite direction, toward the mall. The ride was quiet and going good until I noticed the black SUV in the rearview. I cursed, wondering how long it was going to take for them to realize I was off the reservation again. For a while, it kept its distance, tailing us a few cars behind. But as we moved away from the pack, the SUV wove around the others to get behind us. It was kinda erratic behavior for a government goon. I continued to watch it, as it got closer and closer. Soon we were the only two cars on the road. Connor slowed, trying to get it to pass because it was almost on our bumper. I groaned. What the hell was their problem? Was this penance for me not calling it in?
I rolled down the window to shout something when I noticed something major. The black SUV that Cameron’s people usually drove had Government Issue plates. I also thought it was a little inconspicuous but apparently, it helped them park anywhere. This one, however, didn’t have those plates. I cursed. We weren’t being followed by Cameron’s guys after all.
“What the hell is this jackass’s problem?” said Connor angrily; trying to lose what he thought was a tail-gater.
I didn’t answer. Instead, I climbed out the window a bit to get a better look. The SUV was definitely not one of Chase’s. For instance, the windows were tinted black. For another, I could tell that it was a different make and model. This one was clearly foreign made while Chase’s driver, Johnson, drove an American one. I stared at the vehicle for some time, wondering what their deal was. Were they just a bunch of ass-holes or was there something more to them. I continued to stare them, wondering when they were going to make their move.
It didn’t take them long.
The passenger side window rolled down and a few seconds later, a man in a dark suit slithered half out. He had a shaven head but there was no doubt that he was Greek, from the color of his skin to his facial features. He sneered at me and then reached into his coat, pulling out a gun. He fired off a shot before I knew what he was doing. My reflexes took over. I snapped my wrist up, the bullet ricocheted away. He sneered and fire another shot. I blocked it again. Don’t these guys talk to one another? Surely, they knew by now that shooting at me was pretty damn pointless. After all back in Greece, I blocked every damn bullet they shot at me. Not really paying attention to what was going on; he fired a few more shots. I blocked two but the third wasn’t aimed at me. I panicked as it went through the back window, dangerously close to Connor. I snapped around and slid back inside.
“Are you all right?” I asked frantic.
“Was that a bullet?” he asked, hunched forward.
I sighed when I saw the hole in the windshield, it was a through and through. But the intent was clear: these guys weren’t pulling any punches. They weren’t trying to catch me anymore; they were out to kill me. I could feel my anger rising. It was one thing to try to shoot me but going after Connor was another thing. I weighed my options, wondering what I could do in this situation. It was clear that these guys had no regard for human life, which was dangerous. There were no cars on the road right now but we were on one of the busier streets. It was only a matter of time before someone---either one of us---got careless. I couldn’t put people’s lives at risk for me.
I leaned my head inside. “Aim for one of the side streets, away from people.”
I didn’t wait for Connor to respond. I felt the truck swerve a bit. Then we went left, apparently down some other road. The SUV turned with us. On either side, I saw lots of trees. I smiled then reacted. It was a split second maneuver but I was all about those these days. I made sure I had a good grip and then climbed out the window. I heard Connor shout at me but his voice was lost on the wind. I rolled over the top of the cab and into the back of the pickup. The guy hanging out of the SUV didn’t waste time. He fired off another shot to distract me. I blocked it then he clambered out the window too. I laughed, there was no way he could go toe-to-toe with me.
But apparently, he was going to try.
He struggled the rest of the way out of the SUV, shouting for the driver to get him closer to the truck. I stood and waited. There wasn’t much I could do anyway. The driver was pretty good, keeping the SUV steady with the truck. It was quite a show to watch, like a Michael Bay movie. The guy hanging out of the SUV positioned himself and jumped. I was impressed when he landed in the back of the pickup, rolling to rest at my feet. I’m not a dirty fighter. Even though my Amazonian hardwire told me to pick him up and toss him out of the truck, I resisted. It was hard but I managed to allow the guy to stand. Seeing him stand, I was impressed once again. He was actually around my size---I was surprised--- but built like he ate bricks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
He rolled his head a bit then launched into a frontal assault. I’m not sure how I knew to block it but I did. I threw up every defense; it was like I could read his moves. Everything he tried, I had an answer for. It was awesome. He tried again and again to land a blow and I just kept throwing away his punches. It was a shame because I could tell he was a really good fighter, very skilled. He was fast too, seriously fast. It took everything I had to stop him and if I could have broken a sweat, I would have. He was a skilled fighter, better than I gave him credit for. If I wasn’t currently fighting him, I think I would have loved watching him. I’m not sure how I knew he was a skilled fighter too, but I was able to keep up with him. I assume it was another thing my hardwiring had built into me. I wish Hera had given me an instruction manual. It was kinda creepy to learn that by putting on a golden belt that I turned into a cross between Jet Li, Rambo and John Cena. Ok, so maybe they weren’t the best examples but I was definitely a serious bad ass now.
After a few more blows from him though, he started to tire. As big as he was and as fast as he was, he was still no match for my endurance. He tired quickly and I went in. So far, I’d only been blocking everything he’d thrown at me. I’m not sure how I knew it but a part of me knew it was good to be on the defensive to tire your opponent out. Now that he was exhausted, I could move in. I did just that. He tried to block me but he was too tired now. I landed my first blow, breaking a bone. He wailed in pain, stumbling backwards. My fist had connected with his shoulder, disabling the whole of his right arm. He cradled it to his chest. I went for a second, catching him off guard, hitting his left knee.
He cried out even louder and stumbled backwards. He fell off the back of the truck. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react. One second he was there and the next he was gone. I ran to see if I could find him. He landed hard on the road and rolled behind us. I turned away as the SUV approached, I didn’t want to see what happened next. It was a horrible way to go.
Losing one of their friends didn’t seem to stop the SUV though. It plowed on forward like nothing happened. No one else appeared at the passenger window but it put on speed. I knew what it was doing a split second before it rear ended us. The impact knocked me off balance. I fell to my knees. As I was getting up, they slammed against the back of the truck again. I heard Connor’s muffled curse inside the cab. After a third slam, the SUV veered a bit. I finally stood up, angry as all hell. I grabbed the first thing I could find---a toolbox---and launched it at the vehicle. The box slammed into the windshield, scattering tools all over the hood and highway. The glass spider webbed, causing the vehicle to careen wildly out of control.
It fell behind as Connor put on the speed. I sighed in relief, glad that that was over.
I walked over to the back window of the pickup and slid it open. “We’re in the clear now,” I said, letting out a well needed sigh.
“What the hell is going on?” Connor asked, a little bit annoyed and scared.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t scared, probably more hardwiring. “It’s a long story,” I said, taking a breath. “Let’s turn around and head back home. I have to make a phone call.”
He nodded. I am never leaving the house again without Cameron or some of her people. It was bad enough that I kept leaving it without taking that special cell phone Faraday gave me but to leave it without them and put others in danger. Never again. It didn’t matter if I didn’t fully trust them; I could have gotten Connor killed today. I’m not sure if I could have lived with myself if anything had happened to him. I’m just glad that Cissie wasn’t in the truck, id something happened to both of them I’m not sure what I would have done.
“Could you get back in here, please?” he said, glancing back at me for a second. “You’re making me nervous back there.”
I laughed and started to climb back around the side of the truck but I stopped about halfway. Up ahead, there was another vehicle approaching. It was a green blazer this time. I didn’t think anything of it until it got closer. There was something about the way it was driving. When it close enough, the passenger window rolled down. I had a split second to react before the passenger came out with a machine gun. I rolled onto the hood of the truck, my arms throwing up quickly. It was amazing how fast I moved my wrists, blocking every single one of those rapidly firing bullets. A couple got by, one grazed my cheek; another went through the glass and buried itself in my headrest.
Connor cursed and swerved, trying to get out of the line of fire. I kept deflecting bullets until the guy ran out then I cursed. These guys were really starting to piss me off. I let out a large intake of air then turned to face Connor. The only thing that was separating the two of us was the windshield. He made a motion for me to move out of his way so he could drive. I made a motion for him to put on the glass. He rolled down the window and shouted.
“What are you doing?”
“Ending this.” I shouted back.
He did as he was told. I stood up on the hood of the truck, I’m sure Connor figured out what I was about to do. I didn’t wait for him to protest. I aimed for the blazer and jumped. I judged the distance pretty good, landing on the hood of the vehicle. I rolled a bit, cracking the windshield. I caught myself before I rolled off. When I got to my knees, the passenger climbed half way out of the window again. This time he had a pistol. He tried to aim it at me and shot. I grabbed his wrist and twisted. I snapped his wrist; the gun tumbled free and onto the road. He screamed in pain. I grabbed the back on his head and slammed it on the roof of the truck, breaking his nose.
I let him go and rolled over to the driver side. For a second the two of us stared at each other through the glass just like I did with Connor moments before. But unlike with Connor, I punched my hand through the glass. The look on the driver’s face was priceless. It was to distract him from my real plan. I pulled my hand out quickly---surprised there was no blood---then reached over and grabbed his door. Hera give me strength. I felt a surge of power and tore the door away from the truck, tossing it away like it was made of tissue paper. The driver freaked.
“Stop the truck right now” I said, glaring at him and his passenger.
He spouted something in Greek, the equivalent of telling me to kiss his ass. I growled angrily and stepped on the brake. Tires squealed and the truck swerved. It came to a screeching stop, the force of which threw me off the side and sent me flying forward onto the road. I hit the pavement hard and rolled. It hurt a lot less than I thought it was going too. I rolled for a bit and then finally came to a stop. When I pushed myself to my feet and my world stopped spinning, I threw up. Then I checked myself over for damage. There were a few cuts and bruises but other than that, I was pretty unscathed. It amazed the hell out of me actually. The truck had been going at least sixty-five and I’d just been thrown off it. I should have broken several bones but the only thing I had were cuts.
Connor’s red pickup was stopped ten feet up the road. He opened the door and ran out. I pushed the rest of the way up and waved him off. He stopped about two feet from me, a look of horror on his face at first. But when he saw me stand and brush myself off, his horror turned to relief. I looked down and groaned. My shirt was torn, exposing flesh underneath and my jeans looked like someone attacked them with a pair of scissors. I could taste blood in my mouth and I think I broke a nail. I turned back to the blazer, unfortunately the occupants inside didn’t fair too well.
The air bags had deployed but the driver didn’t hit his fast first like the passenger. He’d been leaning halfway out the missing door in an attempt to push me off. So when the car came to a jarring halt, he was facing the bag sideways. He was still hanging halfway out the door, his neck broken. I felt no remorse. After all these bastards tried to kill me a few seconds ago. When I approached the blazer, Connor was right beside me.
“Is he dead?” he asked, looking at the driver.
I shrugged. “Probably.”
He nodded, looking glum. “Holy shit”
I looked at him and frowned. “I’m really sorry about this Connor. I never meant to get you involved.”
He nodded numbly. After a few seconds, he asked. “Who are they?”
“Back in Greece we were attacked by these guys pretending to be government officials,” I said as I started searching through the driver’s pockets, looking for some ID. “They were looking for something on the island I told you about.” He nodded as I found the guy’s wallet. “But the US government managed to get Mom, Donna and me out of there.”
I flipped open the wallet, there wasn’t much in it besides some cash. He didn’t even have a driver’s license. I frowned. How in the hell did he get the truck then? I walked over to the passenger side and opened the door. The passenger was alive but unconscious. I pushed him back, ripped away the airbag and popped open the glove compartment. Inside I found the rental agreement for the truck but little else. Whoever these guys were---I had a pretty good idea---they were pretty thorough about keeping their identities a secret.
I started rifling through the passenger’s pockets. He groaned a bit but didn’t wake up. I found his wallet too, and all that was inside was more cash. I tossed his wallet on the seat and decided to check the back. As I was opening the back door, I heard the roaring of a car approaching. I groaned and took a look. My suspicions were answered quickly. It was the damn SUV from before and it was coming on fast. I snapped back around to the front and yanked the passenger from the truck. I pulled him free quickly, shouting to Connor. He came running around the side of the vehicle and hefted the guy into his arms, dragging him away. These guys were really starting to piss me off. They were like Goddamn cockroaches. You squash one and they just get back up. I looked at the Blazer and smiled. I guess what you really needed was a bigger shoe. I knew I was strong, I’d proven that time and again. In Greece, I stopped the SUV with my bare hands. Even then, I was pushing it a little. I still had yet to test how strong I really was but if I had to guess I’d say I was able to at least push a car.
I walked around to the front of the Blazer, listening, as the SUV got closer and closer. I probably had about a minute or less. It was all I needed. I took a deep breath and shoved the front of the truck with all my might. The leather on my shoes snapped and the legs of jeans split but I pushed the truck. I pushed it hard. It coursed backwards, propelling toward the oncoming SUV. There was a loud screech of tires but whoever was driving wasn’t fast enough to stop. The front end of the oncoming vehicle slammed head first into the back of the Blazer. There was loud crash of metal on metal. Glass shattered; there was the smell of burned rubber.
Both vehicles were now a mangled mess on the highway.
“Son of a bitch” said Connor, dragging the guy over. “You just…I mean…”
“Hand me that guy,” I said, he happily passed the guy over.
I dragged him back over to the mangled wreck and left him lying there, making it look like he’d been thrown from the crash. By the time he came too, he’d probably be in the hospital. It was a lousy thing to do but I couldn’t let anyone connect this to me. I knew I’d have to tell Cameron all about it---she’d be pissed---but at least she’d tried to cover it up.
“Is this an everyday thing with you now?’ he asked, pointing to the wreck.
I shrugged. “It’s been known to happen from time to time.”
We didn’t say anything more as the two of us walked back to the truck and got inside. He turned around and the two of us headed back toward my house.
I made him drive around a bit to make sure we weren’t being followed anymore. Not that it really mattered I suppose. They tracked us as soon as we left Eddie’s house, it was a good bet they knew where I lived. Not that they’d get into The Gates. Unless they bought a house or were on a list of expected guests, there was no way they could get in there. Not even Connor could get in there every morning without being on the list, it didn’t matter that the guard knew him for years because his family lived there. If you weren’t on the list, you weren’t getting in.
We drove around about an hour before Connor brought me home. I was pretty certain that the guys in the two trucks were the only ones dumb enough to come after me. I still wasn’t sure what they were after---ok, I had some idea---but I knew they wouldn’t be stupid enough to try again. At least not in the same manner. They’d already tried twice and failed and it was a safe bet they’d probably try again. Except this time, I wasn’t taking any chances. So after the guard let us through, Connor drove as quietly to my house as possible. When we pulled into the driveway, I looked myself over. There was no way I could get away with any lies to my grandma, especially the way I looked. My clothes alone were enough to prove that I’d been up to something.
“We can tell her you fell down a hill,” said Connor with a smile.
I smirked. “Do you honestly think that’ll work?”
He shook his head. Then he stared at his windshield. There were two bullet holes in it now, both of which weren’t going to be easy to explain anyway. For a while, I thought maybe I could get away with not telling Cameron about Connor knowing my secret. Now I knew there was no way around it. I suppose if the two of us really brainstormed, we could come up with a possible explanation but neither of us were to it. The truth was the best answer and if she wanted to lock us up then so be it. I’d go to bat for him though, explain how I had no choice and that everything was my fault. There was no way I was going to let him get into trouble for my stupidity.
He finally sighed. “You and I never got to talk,” he said softly.
I nodded. “I’m sorry about all this, dragging you into my problems I mean. I’m also sorry about not telling you who I was before, I was scared.”
He reached over and touched my hand then pulled away, second guessing what he just did. He sighed heavily. “I know you’re Charlie but when I look at you all I see is the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”
I blushed. “You think I’m…”
He reached up and brushed some of the hair from my face. Then he leaned in. I knew I shouldn’t have leaned in too, but I couldn’t help it. I might have been Charlie and his best friend but that was before. Charlie was gone and he wasn’t coming back. A part of me knew that all of this was wrong but another part of me screamed in my head that it was so right. The latter part was in control, allowing him to put his hand behind my head and slowly move it toward his. Our lips were centimeters apart. I closed my eyes, waiting for it to come. But it never did. Connor’s hand slid off my head and he cursed. It was never a good sign to hear the boy you were about to kiss swear right before you were going to do it.
I opened my eyes. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “I can’t. I’m sorry, I really want to but I can’t”
I smiled weakly. “It’s weird for me too.”
“I know you’re Cassie now but you’re also Charlie too. Does that make any sense?”
I nodded. Unfortunately, it made a lot of sense. I was having the same problem too. It was strange to think of myself as Charlie or even as once being a boy. I’ve been a girl for almost a week or more now and it’s hard to think like anything but. I mean looking at him for instance. I knew he was my best friend and it was wrong to have feelings for him but that part of me that didn’t like it was slowly starting to fade away. Another part of me wanted him so bad that it hurt.
I got control of myself though. “Maybe you and I should go inside.”
We left the truck and walked toward the house. It didn’t seem strange at all that his hand slipped into mine. When we got inside, of course my grandma made a comment about the way I looked. She kept giving Connor a look, thinking that maybe he had something to do with it. I quickly explained as I retrieved the encrypted cell phone. I gave her an abridged version of events and my grandma didn’t look too happy. When I dialed Cameron, she answered on the second ring.
“We have a problem”
She groaned. “What did you do now?”
I quickly filled her in on the day’s events, leaving out the part about Eddie being a Meta. I didn’t want her nor the government to find him. I had made a promise and I was sticking to it. I told her everything that happened besides that though, telling her where to find the cars and how many guys there were. She took it surprisingly well for someone I knew was very angry. But how could I help it. It’s not like I asked those guys to come after me. In fact, I tried to avoid any violence. But as soon as they started shooting, endangering Connor, I knew I had to act. As soon as I told her about Connor, I think she flipped. That one was my fault and like I promised myself, I took full blame. She grumbled a lot. Through it all, she kept barking orders, apparently organizing her team.
“You never make it easy do you?” she asked when I finished.
“Like I had a choice,” I said angrily “they were the same guys from Greece and this time they weren’t screwing around. They tried to kill the two of us.”
Cameron sighed. “I’m sending a car over to sit in front of your house tonight.”
“What about Connor?”
“Make up one of your guest rooms” she said sternly. “He’s not going anywhere. In the morning I’ll swing by and we can have a talk.”
She hung up after that.
I quickly filled in my grandma and Connor. Grandma went upstairs to get Connor’s room ready while Connor used the living room phone to call Kara. I went into the kitchen, looking to see if I could scrounge up anything to eat. It was about one now; the two of us missed lunch. There was some sandwich meat in the fridge and some bread on the counter. I quickly whipped up a dozen sandwiches, leaving Connor at least two. He came into the kitchen a few minutes later. He sat at the table, looking at my plate then his. His eyes widened and I shrugged. He didn’t say anything so the two of us ate in silence. The rest of the day progressed in silence pretty much. Grandma struck up conversation with the two of us, asking us to describe in detail what happened. I didn’t tell her about Eddie either. Connor and I both said he was pretty sick but would probably be on the mend in a few days. Both of us talked to Grandma but neither one of us said anything to the other. It was kinda strange sitting here with him, trying to act like old times. He knew the truth now and for some reason I thought things might be different.
Actually, I thought they might go back to the way things were. Connor and I used to spend hours up in my room reading comics or playing video games. We were a couple of guys having fun. Looking at him now, I knew something like that could never happen again.
After a few hours, he broke the silence. “You still have the Xbox?”
I smiled and the two of us went upstairs. I paused at my old bedroom door. I hadn’t been in there since Mom and I moved out. Most of my old stuff was in there but for some reason I wasn’t itching to go inside. I passed it every morning on my way downstairs but it was just another room now. Ok, so that’s only partially true. I wanted to go in there; I wanted to go in there very much. But every time I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to turn the handle and go inside. Now that the two of us were standing here, my hand trembled above the knob. In the end, it was actually Connor who took the initiative and opened it.
My old room was exactly the same. It had the same blue walls, the same sci-fi themed bedspread and pillow sheets. There was a desk in the corner with my old computer and various movie posters on the walls. In the other corner was a chest full of action figures that Connor and I used to play with all the time. Most of them had sat untouched for years. Mounted on the wall was a flat screen, underneath which was my 360 and a stack of games. I sighed when I looked around. I used to think this was the coolest room in the world. But looking at it now I only had one thought: a nerdy boy used to live here. The thought sent shivers up and down my spine. It scared me to think that I’d changed so much.
“Cassie dear” my grandma called from downstairs.
I left Connor to set up the system while I wandered to the top of stairs. “Yeah, grandma.”
“Keep the door open please.”
I groaned. She had to be kidding right. But there was no smile on her face. I smiled and nodded then wandered back to the room. Connor was sitting on the edge of my old bed, the game console already booted up. He slid over to allow me room to sit. I awkwardly sat down, close but not too close. He handed me the spare controller. The two of us started to play one of our favorite games but it wasn’t long before I realized my heart wasn’t in it anymore. We played for a while anyway. It was a fighting game and Connor pounded the hell out of me in almost every round. I guess I wasn’t much of a gamer anymore. I have to admit it was kinda boring actually.
“Damn dude” said Connor, staring at the screen. “You’re playing like a girl.”
As soon as he said it, he dropped his controller and turned to me. He looked like he’d just swallowed a marble or something. “Shit I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to….”
I dropped the controller too. We didn’t say anything for the longest time. We just stared at each other; my heart was pounding in my chest. I inwardly groaned. He moistened his dry lips. Then it happened. I’m not even sure what it was at first but I knew as soon as I threw myself at him. Both our resistances shattered in a second. I practically jumped in his lap as I threw my arms around his neck, our lips plastering against one another. We fell backwards on the bed then began to roll up in a hot rollicking make out session. I often used to dream of this moment but never in my wildest dreams did I think it was going to be with Connor or that I was going to be the girl.
After about a minute or two---God, it felt longer---I pulled up to breathe. My hair was a mess, my shirt was torn in several places and I was panting like crazy. Connor was panting too, his chest and mine heaving up and down together. I looked into his bright sparkling blue eyes and smiled. He smiled too. This should have been awkward as hell but it felt so right.
I laughed. “Much better than a stupid game, huh.”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he grabbed my head and pulled me in for another kiss.
I woke up with Connor’s arm around me.
For a second it confused the hell out of me, seeing that I had clearly been asleep. I looked at Connor; his shirt was torn in half, his hair a ruffled mess. I think I might have done all that. I don’t really remember doing it but we were kinda hot and heavy. I looked down at myself and was glad to see that my bra was still on. My shirt was a tattered mess though. My jeans were pretty bad too. I never bothered to change when we got home---I looked at the alarm, it was five am---yesterday. It was Sunday now. I knew that in an hour or so, grandma would get up and get ready for church. It was her Sunday routine. Mom hated the whole idea of church; she had a thing against organized religion.
I slipped slowly out from underneath Connor and padded across the room. I’d let him sleep, he’d had a busy day yesterday. I slipped out into the hall, trying to move as silently as I could. When I got back to my room, I thought about going to bed. But for some reason I wasn’t tired. I stripped out of my clothes, taking my shredded jeans with me as I went to the bathroom. I tossed the jeans into the hallway waist basket then went into the bathroom. I took a quick shower. My mind kept going back to Connor and what we did yesterday afternoon. I had no idea what any of it meant but I liked it. I didn’t want to like it but it just felt right somehow, like it was meant to be.
Twenty minutes later, I left the shower. I wrapped a towel around myself and headed for my room. I thought about more jeans and a t-shirt but decided against it. Instead, I put on my running clothes. As I was putting them on, I looked over at the window and saw my friend the owl sitting there. The other day I looked him up in the school library. It was a Eurasian Eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world. Also only native to Europe and Asia. So whatever the hell it was doing here was beyond me. But I guess I attracted those kinds of things, like the peacock in the middle of the Med.
But what seemed to surprise me most about my nighttime visitor was that no one else seemed to know he was there. He was huge, bigger than a lot of dogs and yet only I saw him.
I walked over to the window and tapped on the glass. His head followed my hand, moving with it like it was a mouse for him to snatch up. I bit my lip and opened the window. There was no screen on this window; I think my aunt used to like to sneak out at night. The tree was close enough for her to climb down after all. The owl stared into my room, cocking his head left and right. It was kinda strange but almost looked like he was getting a feel for the place. I ignored him and continued dressing, pulling on my running clothes. When I sat on the bed to put on my sneakers, he hopped into the room.
I nearly jumped off the bed. “What the hell are you doing?”
It just stared at me, judging me. There was something about the way it looked, the insane intelligence behind those eyes. It was there that I knew that this wasn’t any ordinary owl. A shiver went up my spine as the implication hit me. I bit my lip as I slowly slid off my bed and walked over. He was sitting on the windowsill, looking around my room. When I approached, he didn’t seem the least bit afraid of me. Instead, he watched me with interest for a few seconds then continued to look about as if he was trying to decide if the room was worthy of me.
I took a deep breath and a guess. “Your name is Glaucus, right?”
At the sound of its name, its head snapped around toward me. I jumped back. Holy shit. I wet my lips, trembling a bit. What had Hera said: they weren’t allowed to interfere ... right? But if he was here didn’t that mean they were interfering. He was Athena’s owl after all. That thought sent another shiver down my spine. Athena’s owl, the Goddess of Wisdom had been keeping an eye on me. I’m not sure how to respond to that. I knew all about Athena from the Myths, hell The Odyssey was one of my favorite stories. Grandpa and I used to read it all the time. But never in a million years did I think it would be possible for me to warrant her attention. She was a very important person after all. Hera was important too but Athena…I kinda smiled about that.
“I’m going for a run,” I finally said, getting up the nerve to speak to him again. “I don’t suppose you want to come along?”
I think it was the invitation he was looking for. He turned and flew out the window. I didn’t waste any time following. No, I didn’t go out the window. I took off out of the room, running down the stairs. No one was up yet but I’m sure my pounding through the house was a rude awakening. Before I knew what I was doing, I was out the door and running. I saw the owl soaring overhead, flying low enough for me to see him. He flew toward the park, like he knew which way I liked to run. I was able to keep good pace with him; he never once flew faster than I could run. The guard at the gates opened the door when he saw me, knowing I was coming before I did. He smiled as I ran past. The owl led the way, soaring like a majestic eagle. It didn’t take me long to get to the park. When I got there, it was pretty much deserted.
Glaucus disappeared into the trees off to the left. I ran over after him but it was too dense and there were too many to see where he went. I sighed, wondering why he dragged me all the way out here. I looked a little more for him and when I couldn’t find him, I hit the track.
I was in a good mood this morning. It still kinda freaked me out that Athena was watching me but it made me feel special too. My mind flashed back to the island, to all the bronze statues I saw. Almost all the Olympian Goddesses were represented there so I wondered if the Amazons had more than one patron. In Ancient times, their Goddess was Artemis. In fact, I was actually a little surprised when Hera appeared before me and not her. In almost everything I read, I couldn’t find a thing that connected Hera to the Amazons. Not that I was complaining, it’s just that it felt kinda strange that the Queen of the Gods would come to me personally.
I ran four laps around the track before I noticed someone was watching. I’m not sure where he came from but I saw him the first time on my fifth lap. It was an old man with a cane. He was buddle up for winter, standing on the sidelines watching me run. He looked to be in his eighties. When I finished my fifth lap, he was clapping. I stopped a few feet from him, stretching. I turned around and he smiled. I slowly walked over, wondering what he was up too.
“Did I interrupt something, sir?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I haven’t seen someone run like that in a long time.”
I flushed. “I’m a little special.”
“Everyone is special,” he said as he walked over to a nearby bench and sat down.
I nodded and started to walk off but stopped. I turned back and he looked at me. “Could you do me a favor, miss?” I nodded. “Would you mind sitting and talking with me a bit? It’s been so long since I’ve had a nice conversation.”
I shrugged. I suppose I could give him a few minutes. I walked over and sat down on the bench next to him.
“I can’t be here long” I said, “There are some people who will be angry if I stay out too long.”
He smiled. “That’s the problem with the world. Everyone gets angry about this and that. I’m sure whoever it is will understand.”
“Not these people.”
“Yes, well I’m hardly anything harmful” He chuckled. Then he pulled a newspaper from his coat, opening it up. He read for a few seconds before he spoke again.
“Sad lot the world is in, isn’t it?” I nodded, not sure what he meant. “So much death and destruction these days and now all this Meta business.”
That made me uncomfortable. I just hoped he wouldn’t start talking about how evil Metas were or something. “I wouldn’t know much about that.”
“The world’s changing everyday now or so it seems” he said, flipping to another page in the paper. “Everyone is scrambling to keep up. The more these people start cropping up, the more danger will follow.”
“Do you think they’re dangerous?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Everyone is dangerous in their own way. It’s not their power that one needs to worry about it’s their nature. That’s one of man’s greatest strengths and weaknesses I think. What do they call it, oh yeah, the Nature of the Beast. You never know what a person is going to do until they are faced with a choice. It’s a scary world out there and in order to get by, you have to be prepared for anything.”
I nodded. “Its hard to be prepared for things that you can’t see coming though.”
He laughed and patted my knee. “That’s the way of the world my dear. You never do know what’s coming. If someone were to say to you, a storm is coming, you might grab your raincoat and your umbrella but what if it isn’t a rain storm?”
“I guess you’d need to be prepared for anything?”
He nodded. “Indeed you would” He folded his paper and looked at his watch. “Ah, I must be going now.” He used his cane, trying to get up.
I got to my feet and helped him up. He smiled at me and reached into his pocket, pulling out something. Before I could say anything, he put it into my hand. I opened my palm and saw a cheap coin, it was clearly a fake. It was something I was familiar with though: a gold drachma.
“I can’t take this from you.”
He laughed. “I’ve had that thing for years. Who knows it might bring you some luck.”
I held it in my hand smiled. “Do you need me to walk with you anywhere?”
He shook his head. “I can manage quite all right on my own,” he said with a sigh. Then he shivered, pulling his coat around his neck. “Feels like a storm is coming for sure. I best get home and start preparing.”
I laughed, shaking my head. I watched him until he disappeared out of sight down the path. He was a funny old man but he did have a point. I’m not sure what it was but I knew that I had to prepare for whatever came my way. It was kinda funny because before I was convinced that things were going bad, that these people wouldn’t stop coming for me. Now, I had this overwhelming feeling that no matter what they threw at me I’d be able to take it. I smiled at that. A little bit of sidewalk wisdom and the whole world changes. I laughed.
I stayed in the park, running a few more laps and then I turned and ran back home.
Connor and Grandma were up by the time I got back into the house. Both of them frowned at me. I think the two of them were banding together now, making sure I didn’t do anything too stupid. I’d already broken my own promise not to go out without the DEO following. But for some reason I was compelled to follow Glaucus and there was nothing I could do to stop myself. Of course, I didn’t realize that until my run home. It was kinda strange really because I couldn’t really remember much about my run to the park just that I got there somehow without thinking about it. I remember what happened once I got there---talking to that nice old man---but getting there was a little hazy.
“Hurry and take a shower” said grandma as she moved the skillet about on the stove. “Agent Chase will be here soon.”
I nodded and ran up the stairs. I got in the shower, letting the water wash over me as quickly as possible. Ok, maybe not as quick. I was kinda dreading speaking to Cameron actually. She didn’t sound mad on the phone last night but I’d already been warned by her several times to lie low. But it’s not my fault. For some reason these stupid things keep coming after me. First the thing in Greece, then the guy in the mall and the potential mugging. Let’s not forget the thing in the museum and of course, yesterday’s little fiasco. It was like the whole world was turning against me and someone was painting a giant target on my head.
I got out of the shower and dressed. For some reason, I slipped the fake coin into my back pocket. When I got downstairs, I just had enough time to eat before Cameron came in. Jay was with her as well as another woman I didn’t recognize. She was young---a little older than Donna maybe---she had shoulder length black hair pulled back into a ponytail and dark sunglasses. Unlike Cameron who was wearing her suit---no more casual clothes for her---this girl was in jeans and a t-shirt, my kind of person. The new girl looked around the room before locking eyes with me. When she did, she smiled.
“This is Agent Spencer,” Cameron pointed out the new girl. “She’s going to be Cassie’s new babysitter. Wherever she goes, Spencer will follow.”
The girl smiled. “You can call me Kate,” she said cheerily, waving at the three of us.
Cameron looked annoyed. “Agent Garrick will be assisting.”
Cameron looked right at me and sighed. “These two are going to be on you like glue just in case you try to pull another one of your little stunts.”
I groaned. “It’s not like I do it on purpose.”
She nodded. “Regardless, the two of them are now on Wonder Duty twenty four seven.”
“Wonder Duty?” asked Connor, looking at me strangely.
Cameron frowned at him, probably annoyed that he had to be in the loop now too. Then she nodded. “That’s Cassie’s nickname for the duration of the mission here.”
“Wonder?” I asked, letting it roll off the tongue a bit.
Jay chimed in. “Agent Faraday’s idea actually. Well actually, it’s Wonder Girl. He wanted to call you Wonder Woman but felt that was a bit premature.”
I groaned. Cameron smiled. I think she enjoyed watching me squirm, she was a definite sadist in a former life. After that, Cameron filled us in on the clean up or rather the lack thereof. When they got to where the incident took place, there was nothing there. Well nothing that we described. Instead of finding two mangled trucks and bodies, they found an overturned pig truck. They said it was the strangest thing, too. There was no driver but there were three or four really large pigs in the back. It looked like the truck blew a tire and flipped over. They checked with the local hospital wondering if the driver wandered in but there was nothing. I wasn’t sure if Cameron believed us or not but Connor and I told her what happened anyway. The only one who seemed to be nodding and taking notes was Kate. I already liked her, she had a friendly face.
After Cameron told us what they didn’t find, she left. Jay and Kate stayed behind. I guess I was going to have to get used to seeing them because apparently today was day one of Wonder Watch. Jay penned the phrase not me. All I could do was moan. Grandma fixed them both breakfast while Connor and I went into the living room and watched TV. There was more on the news about Olivia Queen. Apparently someone blew up her car, killed her driver. It was all over almost every news station. Luckily, she wasn’t in the car at the time but she was kinda shaken up over it. I don’t blame her. First, someone kills her grandfather a few days ago and now they tried to kill her too. I was just glad that I wasn’t rich and famous.
After some TV, Connor took the remote and clicked off. “You want to go somewhere?”
I looked back in the kitchen. Kate turned to me, lowering her shades. I smiled. “I think the two of them might kill anywhere we might want to go to be alone.”
“I’m fine with them tagging along” he said, taking my hand. “As long as I get to be with you.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Kent” I said and kissed him.
Yep, I’m one of those mushy girls with stupid lines now. Hey, he made me kinda weak in the knees.
We kissed for a bit on the couch then went into the kitchen to ask my “Tag Alongs” if we could go somewhere.
“As long as it doesn’t involve you rearranging anything I’m fine with it,” said Jay with a laugh. “Or running, I’m not going to get my butt whipped again by you.”
I smirked. I wanted to say I’d already had my run today but knew that would only cause problems. So I agreed to the no running and held Connor’s hand as we left the house. When we got outside, we saw a blue Prius in the driveway and something else, not the something we were expecting to find. Connor’s truck was gone and in its place was a brand new 2012 Ford Ranger pickup. Connor’s eyes went wide in shock. He turned to Jay, a look of total confusion on his face.
“What’s this?” he asked, his eyes bugging out of his head. “Where’s my truck?”
“It’s a bribe,” said Kate, reaching into her coat pocket and tossing Connor the keys. “Let’s just say that the government has certain secrets it wants you to keep.”
He looked at me and smiled big. Then he scooped me into his arms, kissed me passionately and carried me over to his brand new truck. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever seen him happy. Ok, that’s not true. A few years ago, his Dad bought him a brand new bike for his birthday and he was pretty excited about that. But not as excited as he was now. He carried me over to the truck; he even opened the door and set me on the passenger seat. I took a whiff of the brand new car smell. Connor got inside and laughed then screamed in excitement. He was like a kid in a candy store. He started babbling on and on about all the stuff that the truck had and I barely paid attention. Ok, I didn’t care. It was official; I was totally a girl now.
It was too good to be true for me. I couldn’t help but think that there was something in this deal, something they weren’t telling us. I rolled down the window and Jay walked over. I think he sensed my apprehension about the whole thing.
“Just take it for what it is,” he said, cutting me off.
“You’re not going to lock him up or anything are you?”
He shook his head. “It’s as Kate said. It’s incentive. If he tells anyone about you or us, things might be a little different. But as long as he plays the good Boy Scout, everything will be good.”
I narrowed my eyes. “If you touch him or harm him in anyway, I’ll bury every single one of you.”
He smiled and nodded. “Faraday said you’d say that.”
“Just so long as we’re clear.”
A couple of towns over there was a little Carnival. It was a tiny little thing that they did every year from the beginning of January through the end of February. They called it the Winter Carnival. I’m not too sure how many people actually had a carnival in the winter but it was a cool idea. Connor and I used to go every year since we were about six or seven. It was one of those things that the two of us rarely missed. Last year was the first time the two of us went together with dates. It was his idea actually. There was a girl in our class---Veronica---who had been hounding him for weeks for a date. He finally reluctantly agreed to take her to the Carnival. But the only way she’d go is if someone would take her friend. Connor roped me into it. Both of us had a horrible time, especially me. Her friend was a total air head.
Now it felt kinda strange. The two of us walked through the arch hand-in-hand, Jay and Kate behind us. They arrived a few minutes after us, pretending to be a couple on a date. They were laughing and holding hands, looking particularly cozy with one another. Connor paid for our tickets and the two of us slipped into the crowd. Jay and Kate followed but not too close. Connor and I made the rounds, hitting all the booths. After yesterday, I definitely could use a little normalcy. At one of the booths, we found a couple of his football friends and their dates. I tried my best to be friendly but it was hard when they were such Neanderthals. Their dates were dressed in tiny skirts and looked vapid. I’m not sure how they could wear skirts when it was like thirty degrees outside but I suppose anything to look good, right.
I excused myself to get a drink. As I was standing in line, I felt someone come up behind me. “So, you and the football star, huh?”
I recognized the voice. I turned around with a smile, seeing Artemis and Akila standing behind me. The other Six were nowhere to be found. It was strange when I saw her. For the last few meetings I had with her it was like there were two different Artemis’s. The one at school was cool and confident but the one at The Bana was sappy and submissive. It was almost like they were two different people or someone was spiking the water. The girl standing here was the one I befriended. She and Akila glistened today or so it seemed.
“Hey” I said, glancing behind them over at Connor. Then I answered her question. “It sorta happened actually. He was a friend of my cousin’s. I needed a date for the Museum thing I mentioned and he was available.”
Artemis looked too and nodded. “I suppose he’s a good specimen.”
I laughed. “In the normal world we call them boys.”
Artemis and Akila didn’t laugh. They stared at Connor and his friends a few seconds more then turned back to me. “Do you think he’ll miss you for a bit?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I suppose I might be able to get away for a few minutes,” I said
Artemis smiled. “C’mon.”
She took my arm and pulled me out of the line. I groaned, looking longingly at the drink stand. When we passed Connor and his friends, he locked eyes with me. I mouthed “sorry” and he nodded with a smile. I felt bad abandoning him but Artemis was particularly forceful today. I’m not sure where she and Akila were taking me but we wove our way through a lot of people. We passed by Kate and Jay, the two of them were at a dart booth. At first, I thought Jay would be showing off but it was actually Kate. She was some kind of crack marksman, throwing the darts without looking, popping each balloon. When she saw me pass with the girls, she deliberately missed. After we passed, I watched her slip into step behind us.
For once, I felt kinda happy that one of Cameron’s people was following me. We finally got to our destination which was a little pavilion tent. Artemis dragged me inside and I found out where the others had disappeared to. It was a Bana tent. There was a little table where some of the girls sat; in the middle of them was Antiope of course. She smiled when she saw me but was in the middle of discussing things with a few tent patrons. There was a little TV set up, showing images of the spa, explaining what they did there. I half paid attention and looked around the rest of the tent. There was a little workout area set up an area where two girls were testing their strength, slamming a little mallet onto a metal pad of some sort.
“What is all this?” I asked, looking about, wondering what the hell they were up to.
“The future” said Antiope; the two girls she had been talking to were gone.
She slipped out from behind the table; one of the other girls took her spot. Kate slipped into the tent and wandered over to the table. Antiope came over and gave me a big hug. I felt my skin crawl under her touch. She pulled back but not before kissing me on the cheek. What the hell was this woman’s problem?
“We were worried when you disappeared the other day” she said “then Artemis told me about that horrible incident in the street. Are you sure you’re all right now my dear?”
I nodded. “He took my wallet but he didn’t shake me up too much.”
Antiope’s smile got big. “Spoken like a true Amazon.”
I felt embarrassed. Kate raised an eyebrow. The others smiled around me.
I tried to change the subject quickly. “Artemis said she wanted to show me something?”
Antiope nodded. “It’s a test actually. The Goddess told me you’d be here today and asked that I test you like the other girls.”
Antiope took my arm gently and led me over to where a line of girls my age was slamming the mallet on the metal pad. Persephone was standing nearby with a clipboard, marking the readings that appeared on a little monitor nearby. When she saw me in line, she smiled. I smiled too. I liked all the girls, I hated Antiope. I was in line for a minute or two before it was my turn. The girl in front of me frowned when Persephone told her that “you’re not what we’re looking for.”
She turned and handed me the mallet then left with a friend. I looked around and saw Kate lingering nearby. She was watching everything with interest, probably trying to figure out what the hell was going on. She wasn’t the only one. Persephone told me to take the mallet and hit the pad as hard as I could. I sighed, clearly, I couldn’t do that. So I took a deep breath and tried my hardest to hit it as soft as possible. But even hitting it with part of my strength, the red numbers on the monitor rose to a high percentage. Persephone smiled, Antiope gasped and gave my arm a little squeeze.
“Is that good?” I asked, setting the mallet aside.
“Fantastic my dear” said Antiope softly in my ear. “I knew there was something special about you.”
It creeped me out that she was this close. I shrugged her away a bit. “So what happens now?”
“Now, we go back to the spa and move onto the second part of the test.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I wasn’t here to play Amazon with these girls; I was here to have some time with my boyfriend. Boyfriend, was he my boyfriend now? A couple days of go thinking about something like that would have made me feel sick to my stomach. Now it actually made me feel good. Connor was a boy and we were more than friends but I’m not sure if we were boyfriend/girlfriend just yet. We needed to go on a date first, a real one.
“I don’t think I can go today,” I said, causing a lot of frowns. “I’m here with my boyfriend after all.”
Antiope looked like someone let the air out of her tires. “Surely he’d understand if you left with us.”
I wanted to punch her in the face.
Artemis came to my rescue. “Maybe tomorrow” she said, coming over. “We don’t have practice after school.”
Antiope smiled weakly and nodded. “I suppose that works.”
“Can I try?” asked Kate, walking over.
Antiope turned and saw her. She frowned for a second but then smiled. “Of course you can my dear.”
I watched as Kate took the mallet and easily lit the monitor up. It must have been what they were looking for because all the girls---including Antiope---smiled. Artemis pointed to the tent exit and I reluctantly left. Kate followed me out of the corner of my eye but didn’t make any move to follow. Antiope was chatting her up anyways so there was no way she could really get away.
“Sorry about that” said Artemis as the two of us walked around, looking for Connor. “She can be a little much at times.”
I nodded. “Who made her in charge anyway?”
Artemis looked like I’d kicked her puppy. “The Goddess of course.”
I groaned. “Who is this Goddess anyway?”
Artemis looked confused. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”
“It’s simple enough” I said as the two of us stopped at a candy apple stand. “I mean the Goddess must have a name right?”
Artemis shook her head. “She is the Goddess, names are irrelevant.”
I laughed. “You blindly follow the teachings of someone and you don’t even know who’s teachings you’re following?”
She frowned. “No one is following anyone blindly” There was a hint of anger in her voice.
I held up my hand. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it that way.” She smiled. “But don’t you find it weird that you’re following a Goddess that doesn’t have a name. I mean, have you ever asked Antiope what her name is. I mean her face is all over the Bana and yet you were never curious as to who she was?”
Artemis looked confused for a second. She squinted and rubbed her neck a bit. It only lasted for a second but then she smiled again. “If her name was important than Antiope would tell us it.”
I nodded, defeated. There was no way I’d get anything here. “I’m sure you’re right.”
She smiled. “Let’s go find your boyfriend.”
The two of us didn’t have to search very long. We found Connor with another group, lingering around the food tent. I frowned when I saw him, there was a girl hanging off of him. They were all laughing but Connor looked uncomfortable. Artemis frowned too. I took a deep breath and angrily marched over. The girl looked over at me and sneered but she had to get herself off my man. Yes, my man. I stormed over.
“Hey Connor” I said, causing his whole body to stiffen. “Who’s your friend?”
He pushed her off and turned to me. He looked a little relieved to see me. “Hey Cas, this is ummm….” He looked at her. “What’s your name again?”
She looked pissed. “Britney”
I smiled at her. “Take a hike, Britney.”
“How dare you!” she snapped, her friends came up behind her.
Britney was definitely cheerleader popular, possibly one herself. The girls appeared out of nowhere, probably used to backing up their Queen. I walked over to her, standing a whole head taller. Britney looked up at me, her resolve wavered a bit but she didn’t back down. Artemis stepped up beside me and then Akila. I did a double take, wondering where the hell she came from. A few seconds later, Laris and Anaya was there too. The girls looked from them to me, clearly wondering if they wanted to get involved. Britney and her friends were cheerleaders and popular but Artemis and her friends had a rep for being super jocks.
“Chose your words wisely,” said Artemis.
Britney’s face turned from a sneer to fear. “We were just leaving,” she stammered.
The other girls nodded. Then they disappeared. The football team cheered and booed at the same time. Artemis gave them all a look and they shut up. After glaring at the guys for a few minutes, she and the girls left. I’m not sure if the team was happy or sad to see them leave. It was common knowledge that every guy in the school tried to land Artemis and her friends and so far, none had succeeded. So clearly, they were taking their pretend Amazon status to the extreme. It was clear they liked guys, I saw them look every once and a while. But Antiope probably told them that it was not the Amazon way. I could already tell that she didn’t approve of Connor but as far as that was concerned, she could go screw herself.
Kate returned a few minutes after the action, Jay was lingering nearby.
After the thing with the cheerleaders, the day was kinda a bust. We stayed at the Carnival for a couple more hours; Connor won me some stuffed animals. I think he thought that was the proper thing to do. It was kinda cute I guess, watching him trying to be the big strong one to impress me. We spent some time making the rounds to all the different tents, looking at what they were trying to sell. It was at one of the last ones that vendor gave me a pause. He was a short and stocky guy, his face had a burn that covered most of the left side and he moved with a shuffle, like he had a limp. He was selling a bunch of weapons, replicas of course. There was a guy like him at most of these places.
When we got to his tent, he tried to interest Connor in one of his swords, a replica of a Greek Xiphos. The sword was double edged, used with one hand. He tried and tried to hawk it but Connor wasn’t interested.
“How about you, young lady” he said, holding the weapon out to me. “Clearly you look like you could handle such a fine thing as this.”
I looked from him to the sword, he smiled big, showing a grin with a lot of missing teeth. I shook my head. “I wouldn’t have use for something like that.”
“Perhaps something else for the lady then” he said, reaching under the table and brining out a chest that looked right out of a pirate movie. He opened it up and took out what could only be described as a gold tiara.
I made a face. It was simple looking, with a star carved into the front. It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen but there was something about it.
“What is this?”
He shrugged. “Just something I hammered together for a princess like you.”
I reached for the tiara; my hand touched the polished metal.
“Do you want this?” asked Connor, I numbly nodded. I was entranced by it. “How much, old man?”
The vendor seemed to think about it. “I’ll give it to you for fifty bucks,”
Connor smiled and paid the guy. Afterwards he took the tiara and tried to put it on my head but I stopped him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, confused.
“I’m not supposed to wear it on my head” I said, confused myself. “At least not right now.”
The vendor smiled. “The lady’s prerogative I suppose.”
We thanked the vendor and he offered to allow me to take the chest too. Connor insisted on giving him twenty more for it and then he carried it under his arm for me. I’m not sure why the tiara was so important to me but I knew I had to have it. We left the Carnival after that, Jay and Kate following close behind. I thought about the tiara the whole ride back home. When Connor dropped me, off we kissed but my mind was still on the tiara. When he drove off home, I held the wooden box under my arm like it was the most precious thing in the world. The tiara was on my mind for the rest of the night. I even dreamed about it.
I was standing in the middle of a field; I’m not sure how I got there.
Looking around I could tell it was nowhere I’d been before. For one thing, the grass was tall, about waist high and for another, the air was warm. So even if it was supposed to be in the US, it was definitely during the springtime. I’m not sure if I knew I was dreaming or if it was one of those times when it felt like a dream. There were birds chirping in the distance and the sun was so bright it was hard to see. It was one of those strange days too where you found yourself in someplace but couldn’t remember how or why you were there. I might have mentioned that already but it was definitely on my mind. Another thing on my mind, the way I was dressed.
I looked down and noticed I was decked out like a Greek hoplite. I was wearing a bronze breastplate, something called a thorax by the Ancient Greeks, a white tunic and leather skirt underneath that. I should have felt ridiculous in this outfit but somehow it felt right to wear it. The only weapon I had seemed to be a bow, which was strange because I wasn’t even good with one. I used to suck at archery in Gym glass, Green Arrow I am not. But holding the bow felt right, too. In fact, everything felt right even though I knew it was wrong. I knew things too, things I shouldn’t know. Like how to fire the bow properly and how I knew I was on a hunt for something. I’m not sure what it was but I knew that standing here was just an attempt to relocate my prey. I’d been tracking it for a while now, having just left much of civilization behind me.
I just couldn’t remember what it was. I got fed up with standing there though. So I took a deep breath and started walking forward, the direction I assumed I was going in. I found myself walking up a hill, which was strange because only a second ago it wasn’t there. Further proof that I was in fact dreaming. At the top of the hill, I got the lay of the land. Most of it was fields but there was a crop of trees in the distant, like a small forest. All around the forest were red dots. At first, I thought they were flowers because they were not moving. Then one of the unmoving shapes moved. I saw what looked like branches coming from its head and then realized they were antlers. It was then that I realized that it was a herd of deer. There was only one with antlers, so I’m guessing he was the Prince, like in Bambi.
I slowly crept down the hill, remembering what I was stalking. It was the deer but not just any deer. There was a legend, a legend of a Ceryneian Hind, said to have golden antlers and bronze hooves. I knew it well; it was something I knew from Myth. But in this dream it was my life, I wanted nothing more than to kill it. I’m not sure why, maybe it was because it was a part of the Hercules legend. But I think it was more because it was so large that it could feed my whole family.
When I got to the field below most of the deer there paid me little attention. They looked my way as I crept past but they went back to eating grass as soon as I was past them. I looked at each and every one, wondering where the legendary hind might be hiding. I knew it was wrong for a female deer to have antlers but apparently, there was something special. My rational normal mind knew that the Ancient Greeks were probably thinking of a reindeer, whose does also have antlers. But my irrational dream mind knew that the Hind was actually a gift from the Gods, sacred to one in particular.
I smiled when I finally spotted her.
It was hard not to, after all she was taller than the rest. She was just as red and just as docile as the others but her antlers gave her away. When I approached, she didn’t seem to pay me much attention at first. I walked slowly up to her, moving one foot slowly in front of the other. I got within ten feet, notching an arrow and aiming for her throat. One shot, that’s all it would take. Then I could drag her back proudly and display her antlers above the mantle. I groaned, shaking my head.
I inched ever closer. She finally raised her head from grazing and looked at me. Her eyes were large and dull, docile even. Now I knew where the term doe-eyed came from. I took a deep breath and prepared to fire. Something I did must have spooked her. One second she was standing there like the most gentle creature in the world and the next she was gone. She took off like a lightning bolt, heading straight for the forest. I gave chase, keeping good pace with her. But no matter how much ground I gained, she was still too fast for me. She hit the forest first, tearing through the underbrush. I followed just as quickly. I lost her for a second in the dimness of the forest but caught a flash of gold. I gave chase again, running purely on adrenaline. She tried to trick me a few times but I was on to her. She gave me quite the chase though but like all things, it finally came to an end in a clearing. There was a small pond and no way out.
I raised the bow again, my arrow from before ready to fire again. Once again, she looked at me but this time I faltered. I’m not sure why but looking at her, staring into those eyes, I knew I couldn’t kill her. I sighed, lowering the bow. I think the deer knew it too because her head perked up. Then she looked behind me. At first, I thought she might be trying to distract me so she could get away until I heard something.
“Congratulations, Cassandra” said a voice from behind me.
I snapped around. There was a woman standing there, not much older than Donna. Suddenly I knew I wasn’t here to hunt a deer. The woman was dressed in leather from head to toe, a modern age bow resting against her shoulder. She smiled at me, her hair woven with ribbon and braided down her back. I knew her name but for the life of me, it wouldn’t come. Just like when I meant H…H….H… Well, like when I met the Queen Goddess. The woman held out her hand and the Hind walked over, allowing her to rub it on the head.
“Magnificent animal, isn’t she” I nodded. “You’re the first one that I’ve tested like this and who didn’t try to kill her. That fool brother of mine actually wrestled her to the ground you know, dragging her back to that moron King. Do you know how hard it was to get her back?”
I shook my head, unable to find my voice. Another dream, another goddess.
She groaned. “Don’t compare me to her. She’s a thief.”
“What?” I asked, finally finding my voice.
“Hera” she said, waving her hand. “Your benefactor. She tricked me out of the Amazons a long time ago but that’s water under the bridge.”
“You’re…” I groaned, still unable to say her name.
“You can think of me as the Archer,” she said, patting the Hind on the rear, causing her to disappear into the brush. “I’ve been watching you for some time, you know.”
That’s creepy. She smiled. I cursed, forgetting they knew everything. “Sorry” I said softly.
She waved it off. “It is kinda creepy,” she said, walking over and putting her hands on my shoulders. Before she’d been shorter but now she was taller than me. “Wow, you have his eyes.”
“What? Whose eyes?”
“Never mind that” she said and reached into her jacket, taking out a golden tiara, the same one I got from the Carnival today. “You see this little thing. It’s very important, just as important as those fancy gold bracelets of yours.”
I looked at my wrists but the bracelets were gone.
‘They’re not there sweetie,” she said, “the bracelets are the default form but the Girdle takes on many. You’ll learn to use it the right way very soon.”
“I don’t understand.”
She nodded. “You will. Soon everything will become very clear. The world is going to need you and I’m not just talking about what’s going on in that little city of yours. Things are going to get bad, worse than before. That’s why we tapped you now instead of later.”
I was more confused than ever. She smiled and leaned forward kissing me on the forehead.
I felt extremely warm when her lips touched my forehead and then everything went black.
To Be Continued