- July 10, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 6)
The Long Day
“The fact that you thought licking it would fix it boggles my mind.”
“It worked though!”
“So not the point, Tommy!” I yell at him, right as I take a bite of the piece of crap this place calls a sandwich. This is almost as bad as school cafeteria food.
Almost. Actually, all considered, maybe it’s not so bad.
Tommy sits across from me in the cafeteria and holds his hand up for me to wait. “Marie, I’m pretty sure that once an idea works, that’s all that matters,” the smartass argues, “don’t be mad that I fixed it and you didn’t.”
I clench my hands in front of me, agonizing over this blue-eyed idiot in front of me.
He tries to fix it, which I respect. He asks me, “Oh come on, am I wrong? Tell me I’m wrong.”
My finger twitches as I point it at him. “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
I curse my head off and turn around, gathering the eyes of everyone in this old tourist cafeteria towards us. Thank god this place doesn’t do tours anymore, not that cursing in front of government agents is all that great, but at least I don’t have to worry about doing it in front of kids. That always made me feel bad.
I cursed because Burke, Emily Richer-than-God Burke, decided to sneak up on us, or really me. Fuck, my heart is pumping, the Danger Zone doesn’t even do this to me.
Did Tommy jump? Probably not, he was looking in her direction.
Burke apologizes, “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” as she sits a tray down next to mine, with a sandwich like mine.
I don’t know why that bothers me, everything she does bothers me. Have you ever had that one person in the world you don’t like, and you just criticize everything they do in your head? It’s the opposite or rose-tinted glasses, they can only do wrong.
She asks us, “What are you guys talking about, Tommy licking something?”
“And fixing said thing!” Tommy points out.
“A thing that’s none of your business,” a remark that confuses Tommy, but it wasn’t meant for him anyway. It’s like Burke can’t take a hint that I don’t want to be around her.
She’s not getting her way so she gets angry. She tries to put on that fake smile I bet she practices every day, but she can’t do it today. I’ve gotten to her.
“I-I don’t understand, what the hell is your problem with me?! Last time I checked I didn’t do anything to you!”
It’s hard not to say it, to scream at her. Of course, she doesn’t remember. It’s the old adage, the ax doesn’t remember, but the tree never forgets. Why would I expect anything less of a modern American princess?
I can’t stand to be around her, she always gets me on edge, thinking about her, and her family, the bunch of privileged shits without a care for anyone but themselves.
I get up from my seat at the lunch table, because unsurprisingly, she has no idea what she did wrong, like anyone who’s never been held responsible in her life.
I can’t stand it that of everyone who could really use powers, the daughter of a billionaire gets them. Now another Xu-Lin has to work for another Burke, and I’m not going to be nice about it.
I need to get out of here and thankfully, she just looks at me with this shocked expression on her face instead of getting up and in my way.
“What the hell?!” I yell, and Tommy doesn’t answer. “What the hell is her problem with me, Tommy? I’m asking you!”
Tommy gets this dumb look on his face as he goes, “Uh,” and shrugs, wasting a few more seconds of my time, “maybe, um, well I’m sure she’s angry that you forgot about whatever it is you did.”
I roll my eyes, “I figured that out! But what could she be mad about? We didn’t even meet until… what? High school? And I didn’t even learn her name until we got put on this team.” I try to spell this out for him while everyone stares at me as I’m throwing my hands around. I’m angry for good reason, they can deal with the fucking show. “At which point between learning her name and having her respond with this same bitchy fucking attitude, did I do something to her?”
Tommy’s nice, and he doesn’t deserve to be yelled, but when he responds with, “Sounds like you probably met before that.”
I want to smack him upside his head.
“We didn’t!” I yell at him. I would remember, I would, how would someone forget Marie? The cold-as-ice stare is hard to forget.
“Don’t be so sure.”
I curse my goddamn head off as the Hood sneaks up on me.
Tommy points out, “You know, that’s the second time that has happened in less than five minutes.”
The Hood patronizes him, “Yeah, thanks Tommy, valuable addition to the discussion.”
“Don’t be a dick to him!” I yell at the Hood, “I’m being a dick to him, we can’t all be dicks to him or he won’t like us.”
Tommy legitimately asks, “How about everyone just be nice to me?”
I clench my fists near my head as I float out of my seat. I yell at him, “Because I need someone to yell at, or else I’m going to punch something!” I yell this as I punch the metal table and put a big fucking dent in it, god I’m so done with this, but I’m not. “See?!”
Our food goes everywhere, and the Hood just stands there reactionless as Tommy’s hands fly away from the table. Tommy cries out about his food, “I wasn’t done eating!”
“I’ll buy you a pizza later, but will someone please tell me why my teammate fucking hates me, I would appreciate it before I punch a hole through her head.”
The Hood holds up this folder, like it appeared out of the goddamn ether, and has Marie’s name on it. “There are things in here that might explain why Marie doesn’t like you, including her home address which says a lot on its own,” he informs me while waving it in my face.
I snatch it from him, and go to read it… when I try, I’m deeply reminded of why my parents pulled me out of private school.
I give it back to him, trying to pass it off as something else. “How about you read it to me on the way?”
He tilts his head at me, staring. He knows, he has to, and I just fucked up.
“I’ll tell you the parts you need to know on the way,” he says, not asking me about it, “and maybe you might actually understand Marie’s problem.”
Tommy stares at him with his jaw dropped for almost a dozen seconds before he actually says anything. Did Tommy notice too?
He tells the Hood, “That has her address? Dude, that’s pretty creepy.”
No, he… he’s minding his own business.
The Hood turns his head towards Tommy, and then back to the file, only to realize and admit, “Yeah, I guess that is pretty creepy, but I’m not gonna kill her so I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“I’m glad we both knew we were going to see her, it’s always nice when we’re on the same page,” I tell him, trying to move past our little moment with the file. “Better yet, we should go now and read it, find out why she hates me, and then confront her about it, like, today.”
The Hood moves the folder away while informing me, “It does, I said that, and we can do everything but that last part. I have no desire to be frozen solid.”
“Fine,” I growl as I grind my teeth, “let’s go.”
“Wait!” Tommy calls to get our attention, “Did either of you ever think that if you do this, she’ll be even more pissed at you?”
I think about it, and along with the Hood, I shrug and say, “I don’t care, how much angrier can she get at me?”
The Hood admits, “I also really don’t care.”
I lean over the dented table to reason with Tommy, “Listen, I can’t fix whatever problem we’re having if I don’t know what it is, and she’s not going to tell me, so I have to find out on my own. It’ll be fine, it’ll make things better or not change them at all.”
Tommy looks at me with this blank stare. I think he’s glaring at me but I can’t tell. Then he tells me, “Alright let’s go.”
“You’re not coming,” I tell him.
“Why the hell not?” he questions me.
The Hood points out, “You light yourself on fire, that’s not very inconspicuous.”
I take Tommy’s hand and assure him, “Next time we spy on one of our teammates, you can come.”
I turn around towards the Hood and notice people still staring at us. I yell at them, “Eat your damn food!”
I grab the Hood by the arm and begin flying out of the cafeteria so we can blow this joint.
Thank God, I didn’t say that out loud.
The Hood yells at me as he clings to my arm, “I have legs and a car you know!”
I made a fool of myself, I know it, but it’s like whenever I see Emily Burke or hear about Emily Burke, or any other stupid Burke-spawn, I just lose it.
If my work day had an actual schedule instead of being an on-call kind of thing, I would have been screwed leaving like that. I had only stayed in the first place because the food is free, but I can’t stomach a Burke for free food.
I’ll need to apologize to Tommy though. I keep doing that to him, freaking out and leaving him with the Burke-spawn.
I wish I could say getting home is going to be fine.
It’s not, I missed the bus, and got caught in the rain. I don’t mind the rain, but the walk from the Aegis Needle in South Aeg to my house in North Aeg… let’s say it takes time to cross a city.
Even saying that the walk isn’t the worst thing. It’s the place I have to pass by if I want to make it home at a reasonable hour.
Walking through North Aeg right now, I can look at all the brick buildings, old crummy skyscrapers, two dirty basketball courts, and solemnly say that nothing is all that redeemable about it in comparison to South Aeg.
The buildings are older and not taken care of like the people living here. Nothing’s been updated outside of the roads and that’s only because people from South Aeg need to be able to drive through North Aeg without potholes destroying the suspensions in their fancy cars. At least, that’s my theory.
The stores survive because supermarkets don’t want to try and find real estate here, yet, and they’re fueled by the people who work the dead-end jobs at either the power plant or the factory making god knows what. Some people are lucky enough to get menial work in South Aeg and commute by bus.
My dad did that, sort of. He had a car so not really a bus commuter. He worked in a cubicle at Burkestone Industries, doing whatever paperwork that conglomerate needed. I honestly don’t know what they make in this city, but their headquarters is here. Probably a family thing, I guess.
My home is in the middle of Reaper territory, another gang that likes to hang out around here. They used to fight with the Red Devils but they’re gone and the Reapers have taken up a lot of their territory, which includes my crappy apartment complex. I guess it’s not a big difference. Some of the guys are the same, took them in when they took over.
Killed most others, that was bad. I wanted to do something, but apparently, that was a “job for the cops.” That was code for it being “beneath us,” and “we don’t do the pigs’ job.” I’m sure yet with the Director. Sometimes she feels anti-establishment, and sometimes she remembers she is the establishment.
If I was allowed to… if I wasn’t dependent on the paycheck… my ice doesn’t have to be lethal like the pigs are, but I guess that just makes me a less effective cop.
As I walk past the local basketball court, I can see the Reapers playing. Sure, they look like any normal people, but you can tell they’re Reapers because they’re all dressed in black and white. Some even have skeletons and reapers on their clothing so you know who they are. They’re the same gangs people see everywhere I guess, the poor people ‘high society’ likes to ignore, minorities and ‘white trash.’
That’s what daddy Burke called us anyway.
I pull my hood down and stuff my hands into my pockets. I speed walk to get out of their line of sight as fast as possible, I’m not exactly looking to get into a fight. They see me, but they’re too busy with their game to do anything to care that much. Apparently, I have a juicy ass I should bring over there.
‘Ugh,’ isn’t a good enough word.
I manage my way past all the pizza places and dry cleaners, with their neon signs like it’s an 80s noir flick. At least those have more interesting plot lines than me walking down the street.
About a block or two from my apartment there’s Bobby’s bar. That’s not its name but we call it that because everyone knows Bobby. He makes a lot of house calls so we can pick up our moms and dads. Anyone can guess that my dad was no exception.
Walking past the parking lot, closed off by a chain-link fence, I can still see the skid marks on the ground. I press my fingers through the holes in the fence and picture it like I always do. Sometimes I add a donut, some strange swerve, some way where someone sees that he had an extra pair of keys in the glove box and that the car wasn’t locked.
Sometimes I picture this long high-speed car chase, or a struggle, like maybe someone was robbing him and he beats them up. Sometimes I like to add this heroic backstory as to why he got so distracted that he forgot to look both ways. Adrenaline, excitement, terror, so many things better than being fucking drunk after losing his job.
It never changes anything. I always manage to picture the old four-door clunker speeding out over the sidewalk and into the street, just in time to be hit by the truck. Funny, the cops didn’t even know he was drunk from the crash, just by eyewitnesses and deduction that the bar was across the street. He went out without looking both ways and got hit, died instantly.
Not funny? Oh well.
“Staring ain’t going to bring ‘em back,” I hear Bobby say behind me. I get lost looking at the street, and he usually sees me.
I only remember seeing the accident as they were cleaning up, but I remember it clear as day. Hard to forget, that they tried to keep people from seeing his body but it’s hard to do that.
Bobby calls out to me with his horse voice, damaged from the added weight and yelling at drunks. “Marie, it’s cold out here, you shouldn’t be hanging out.”
I turn around and see him, he’s got this bright yellow raincoat on, but that doesn’t hide the beer gut that well. Bobby’s always been the friendly guy on the block, everyone knows him and no one bothers him, save for the cops. But he’s nice.
I kick my feet at the sidewalk. I never know what else to do when Bobby feels the need to come out. I tell him, “I know, I just get distracted.”
He’s already walked over to me, carrying the garbage with him. He takes a moment to look at it sometimes with me… the spot. Bobby shakes his head and says the same thing he always says. “Shouldn’t have let him leave, but I was so busy that night.”
He does that thing most people do. They explain how something isn’t their fault, but they should get to feel guilty because they technically could have stopped it but didn’t. At the end of the day, it’s not anyone’s job to look over anyone else’s shoulder.
“I never guessed that he had another key, or that he never locks the car in this neighborhood. Who doesn’t lock the car in North Aeg?”
“It’s alright,” I grumble, going through the motions. I’m already walking away before he can say something else about his guilt, something else I don’t care about.
I never actually remember whether or not there are one or two blocks between my apartment complex and Bobby’s, it’s always a blur.
My apartment complex is as rundown and overstuffed as the rest of them. Had to move here after a little financial setback. My parents wanted to move back to the suburbs around the city, or back to the border between North and South Aeg. Less gangs, less shit.
That obviously didn’t happen.
There’s more Reapers hanging out in the entrance, just being a nuisance. When people say you’re something long enough, why bother being anything else?
My old apartment building was supposedly a really nice place at some point, made of new bricks and nice people. Now thugs block the double doors as I approach them. They wear the same black and white Reaper clothing that they all wear, bandanas and smocks on their heads and all.
If it were money they needed, I could at least respect it. We all have to do what we need to; you can feel like there’s no other way to hurt or risk getting hurt. Usually that’s what it is.
But today these guys just want attention, the douchebags of the group.
The first guy blocks my way, sees a short Asian girl, and thinks I’m gonna like his pick-up line. He gives me a wide grin, showing me his teeth.
He offers to me, “Hey baby, you live around here?” giving me a wink and a chuckle… is that it? That’s actually pretty tame, but his eyes are just… I feel gross.
I knock my shoulder into his tall and bony ass and push him out of the way. Before Claire, I was scrawny, bwith arely any meat on my bones. Now, I’ve had to put on muscle and it clearly surprises him with how easily I push him.
But that doesn’t stop him. I have to push him away when he presses his chest against my back, trying to worm his way in front of me. His friends are too busy laughing at him to actually stop him, except for one.
This guy gets in my way with this crooked smile, like he’s gonna actually give me trouble, but he recognizes me when I give him the coldest stare he’s ever seen.
“Ah, never mind, you that cold bitch from the third floor, I remember you, y’all better leave this one be.” He rants as he lets me go but not without cursing me out.
As I walk up the stairs, he talks a bunch of shit about me but I’m used to it.
My apartment is on the third floor as that thug remembers, and that’s where I share an apartment with my mom, and my siblings. A nine-year-old sister and a seven-year-old brother, both home sick from school, which means there’s a mess from whatever they didn’t clean up.
I see my apartment door and see the ‘1’s that make up the 11 turned on their sides to look like slits.
I try to fix them but they’re glued to stay there, so another thing to add to a list of things I need to fix. I jammed the damn key in the hole to get inside, and I’m greeted by what I expected, a mess.
Nobody did the dishes, toys lay on the floor, and crumbs everywhere. Complaining in my head isn’t going to change anything. I’ll clean it up later.
I look into the living room, or really a foot from the kitchen and there’s a couch, one nice chair, and a dirt-filled area rug in front of a TV. My mom sits in the nice chair, watching these old Bruce Lee movies.
She loved him, but now she just watches them with half a mind, talking in her mother’s language. I don’t understand a word. She wouldn’t teach me.
She’s only in her forties, but the wrinkles have made a permanent home from the stress of life I suppose. I really can’t think of what she could be stressed about. She just sits in the chair and acts all catatonic every goddamn day. Leave you doing fucking nothing but watching TV, yelling at Shelley and Bruce, and getting on my case for doing things she’s supposed to be doing, like working.
I hold my tongue and go check on her. No one else will, or can…
At least I was about to when the door to my siblings’ room opens. Shelley appears in her pajamas, a runny nose making a mess of her finger.
“Marie,” she calls my name, she has this squeaky face that she talks to me with. She drags out the last syllable, does the same with ‘daddy’ and ‘mommy.’
“I’m hungry,” she tells me, no ‘hello’ or ‘how was your day…’
But she’s only nine. I got to calm down, can’t snap and yell at her, then she’ll cry and I’ll feel even more like shit than I already do.
I look over at my mother, who’s more spacey than usual. She hasn’t even noticed me yet. I turn back to Shelly and offer her my hand. I tell her, “We’ll make you some soup, then you go back to bed.”
She nods her head and we do just that. I make her the soup and she sits at the counter. I don’t feel like eating, I feel like wallowing, the sadder kind of brooding.
The Burkes come to my mind again, but more the corporate head and the billion-dollar company than the brat she spawned. No one’s to blame for my father getting behind the wheel drunk but him. There is someone to blame for him being at Bobby’s at three-thirty in the afternoon and leaving at two in the morning.
Fired, for no goddamn reason. Never gave us one, sure they said he was an incompetent worker, but my father held pride in his work, I know it’s bullshit. It wasn’t a line of layoffs either, only him, just my father that they decided wasn’t worth the skin off their backs. I bet Evelyn Burke’s office is bigger than my family’s apartment, with her pristine desk and shiny shoes, wearing a dress she’s only going to wear once. I bet she thought to herself, ‘easy way to add to my weekly bonus is to fire one of the cubicle temps.’ I bet she threw a dart and came up with Lee Xu-Lin. I bet she didn’t even know his face, just fired him to get her kicks. A bully just like her daughter. I bet she gave Emily pointers on how to make fun of poor people, make fun of their eyes, and pull their ha-
Shelley brings me back to reality as she holds her bowl out in front of her, cleaner than those in the sink. Fuck, I gotta clean those.
But she didn’t finish that fast, Shelley can’t do anything fast, which means I got lost. I’m doing that a lot, looking off into space and doing nothing but thinking. I look over Shelley’s head at our mother, who is doing just what I was doing.
No, I’m good, it’s not the same thing.
I tell Shelley to leave her bowl, I’ll get it later, and get her back into bed. She does one thing fast, and that’s fall asleep thank heavens.
It’s something we have in common as I seek out the couch. That’s been my bed since we moved in. I take my mother’s bed a lot when she’s busy watching TV. Right now, I only need a nap, a nice long nap after dinner.
I lay down on that couch and the anger and energy are supposed to flow away, but it doesn’t, it gets stuck instead. Sleep can’t come fast enough as I squeeze my eyes shut.
“I can’t believe they still make paper copies.”
“They don’t, I made the technopath print it out for me,” the Hood tells me, from the funniest place.
Once he realized that we were flying there, he asked to pick the position, and I have to say, seeing it made me feel better.
As I fly across the city, stomach to the ground, he sits on my shoulders and I hug his legs to keep him from falling off. He weighs like nothing but looks funny as his legs swing back and forth over my shoulders.
Sometimes though, it’s weird how he can read my mind. “I’m only allowing this because it’s pitch black out, this is not going to be a regular thing,” he warns me.
I’m smiling, if you couldn’t tell. “Okay, whatever you say.”
He points to this old crummy building below and tells me, “Land there, the building with the ripped tarp on top, Marie’s apartment is next to it.”
“Roger dodger,” I joke, and he groans.
I bring us down, and when my feet turn to face the ground, he slides off my shoulders and to the rooftop. He gestures for me to come closer and when I land next to him, he grabs my cape and flips it over us. “The files are really wet but I think the papers might be pretty good.”
“Read them by the edge,” I tell him, “that way I can look for Marie.”
He nods his head and reminds me, “Be careful, we don’t want her to see us,” and we move to look across the small alley between the buildings.
I can hear the guys at the front door, talking about miscellaneous things, like the frigid bitch on the third floor. I wonder who that is.
Regardless, everywhere I look I see some thug, the kind of guys the Hood kills I thought. In fact, Marie’s building is full of them, how did she allow that?
“Reapers,” the Hood informs, doing that crazy thing where he reads my mind. It seems that way until he explains, “I can hear them too, and with the Red Devils gone, they’ve expanded. We can get them later, there are a few in here wanted for murder. Take them out, and the small-time offenders turn tail now and then, but before that, we should know why Marie doesn’t bother them, she may not want the attention.”
“It could save her and everyone here the money and heartache if we did,” I grumble as I hold the cape over his head.
He flips through the file, looking past health records and report cards, looking for something in particular. At the same time, he reminds me, “If we take them out without a plan, more will take their place, and believe it or not, they can get meaner. Worse than that, if there’s nothing to pick up the low-time criminals, they’ll turn back to crime. They don’t sell drugs and fall prey to shady organizations because they like the work. They do it to survive. They aren’t all like Saint Lucifer.”
My eyes dig into the side of his head as I point out, “Or you?”
It was rhetorical, but he stops looking at the file to turn his head towards me, and say, “Yes.” Without tearing his head away, he places his finger at the top of the page he’s opened to. “This is what you want to look at, it includes your mom.”
That grabs my attention pretty quick and I lean over with my cape over our heads so I can look at it better. I didn’t notice before, but the rain is really cold against my legs.
I look at the paper and have the same trouble I always do. I can’t… I can’t make sense of it, the words aren’t making sense together. Why is “won” in this sentence, would “own” make more sense?
I pull away as the letters start jumping around the page. I can’t concentrate.
“Emily,” he calls me by my name, but I don’t look at him. “Are you… are you having a hard reading it?”
“So, what if I am?!” I yell at him before he shushes me and points to the building. I repeat, quieter I guess, “So, what if I am?”
I don’t look at him, I wait for him to say something smart, to make some jab or something. I poked a lot of fun and now it’s his turn, he’s got no reason to be nice-
“I can read it to you,” he says. “Do you have some problem reading? It’s not uncommon, nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Uh, yeah, I… I think…” I slowly turn around and I’m just looking at his all-black mask. It’s… it’s strangely easier to look at. I don’t have to see his eyes. I feel it, but now I don’t have to see them and their pity, or disgust. It makes just a bit easier to admit, “I think I have dyslexia, the visual type.”
“What do you mean you think?” he asks me. “Haven’t you been diagnosed?”
Now it’s hard to look at him again. I find myself look away, letting my cape drape over my head. There’s no diagnosis, that would be admitting imperfection, that… wasn’t allowed.
Then the Hood just reading it. “It’s an employee profile of Marie’s dad, he used to work at Burkestone’s headquarters.”
I look at him as he’s reading it for me.
“How come you’re not being a dick to me?” I ask him.
He stops reading, and tilts a bit my way. “It’s something you’re born with, what’s there to say? I’m a recovering sociopath, how am I gonna judge a common learning disability?”
“It’s way easier to point out how weird you are.”
“Heh,” I chuckle, “as if you’re normal.”
“Yeah, but I don’t pretend to be,” he points out and that strikes a bit closer to home.
“Okay, I get it.”
“Way easier to make fun of how spoiled you are too.”
“I said I get it.”
“Also, a bit of an attention whore.”
“This was not an invitation to shit on my personality, just read the goddamn file. What does it say about Marie’s dad?”
He chuckles before he turns back to the file. “Huh, it says he was fired a couple years ago for, ‘Wrongful Data Access.’”
“What the hell does that mean, ‘Wrongful Data Access?’” I think out loud.
“He went looking somewhere he wasn’t supposed to,” the Hood says as he skims the rest of it before turning the page.
On it is this… certificate copy. I can make out a few words…
“It’s her dad’s death certificate, he died the day after he was fired.”
I can’t help but wonder, “How the hell does S.I.L.A.S. get this information?”
The Hood shrugs and figures, “Hacking, stealing, maybe they just ask, it’s difficult for companies to say no to the government… sometimes.”
He looks at me and doesn’t say anything, prompting me to shake my head and tell him, “What? Spit it out, mind reading is not one of my powers.”
“Can you honestly tell me that you can’t see where this is going, in terms of why Marie hates you?” the Hood asks me. He’s about to explain but he can tell when I turn away that I’m thinking.
Is that why she hates me? Marie thinks my mom is to blame for her father’s death, but I know my mom, she must have had a good reason.
While I’m thinking the Hood investigates further into Marie’s file to find stuff about her, and he finds paycheck information. He investigates that as I look through the apartment building, looking for Marie’s. If I can find her and explain to her that I’m not my mom and that she must have had a good…
That’s ridiculous, why would she ever even consider that her dad was at fault? I didn’t consider the same of my mom, but in my case, my mom is still around to answer my questions.
Marie doesn’t have that.
How do I fix this shit hole?
“Hmm,” the Hood grumbles, and that catches my attention as I find out for sure that I don’t have x-ray vision. I turn back to him as he starts talking again, interestingly informing me that, “Claire pays Marie, or S.I.L.A.S. does, and has been for a while. I bet she’s supporting her family that way.”
I didn’t even think of that, her dad’s dead and if they’re living in this crappy place her mom isn’t working either. Marie’s my age and she’s been feeding her family for years. I couldn’t imagine doing that, taking care of my mom and my brothers. I don’t even know if she has any siblings.
“Does it say anything about her family?” I ask him, “Who is she trying to support if she has to live here? It’d be fucking bullshit if S.I.L.A.S. can’t pay her enough to get her and her mom a better place to live than this.”
The Hood kneels down and I lower my cape as he scans through the papers like a machine, listing off the information I’d like to know.
“She has a younger brother and a sister, ages seven and nine,” he says. Jesus, that’s as young as my brothers and she’s the one putting food on their table.
“Her mother had been on antidepressants for a few years until she stopped a couple months ago.” Maybe she got better from her husband’s death. “S.I.L.A.S. agents report that Mrs. Xu-Lin has been in and out of a catatonic state, making any kind of medicine not worth the trouble for Marie.”
If I wasn’t holding up the cape, I’d be digging my face into my hands, it’s like there’s nothing good about Marie’s life. I almost can’t blame her for taking it out on me.
I stand taller and lift my cape off my shoulders, pulling it so it extends and disconnects. I wrap it around me and him so I can look from directly over his shoulder. He turns his head to look at me for a split second, likely hating this physical contact, but he turns back just as quickly.
“She started working for Claire and S.I.L.A.S. three years ago, a little after her father’s death, explaining how she got all the training before you did.”
Marie was in S.I.L.A.S. before Claire approached my parents, which was after my powers developed, but Tommy was recruited before me too so I didn’t think anything of it.
I’m about to ask what she was doing beforehand but the Hood tells me, “She signed up to be a test doll for the scientists, for her powers and her superhuman gene to be studied so they can better understand it.”
“Was it painful?” I want to know.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t say.”
I moan in aggravation, trying to imagine what Marie probably went through.
“When did you say you first met Marie again?” the Hood asks me.
“Just tell me what I don’t want to hear.”
“Okay, I’m looking at a therapist’s report about Marie’s potential with members of the team. It talks about her potentially having a friendly relationship with Tommy, having known each other from school.”
I stop him there. “That’s not possible, I’ve been in the same schools as Tommy since elementary, except during freshman year, he’s a year behind me, still in high school. There’s no way they could know each other from school.”
The Hood shrugs at me, before reading further. “It talks about her potential with me, though apparently, my more violent methods clash with her more liberal views, but we could potentially bond over a shared disdain for the criminal life, the kind I apparently kill and she lives with. It records the day Claire introduced us as the first time we met.
“But, when it talks about her relationship with you, it specifically states that she should be kept separated from you for strong emotions of hate for you and your family. She blames your mother for her father’s drinking and eventual death, and hates you from… elementary.”
I say it again, “We didn’t go to school together.”
The Hood points to the paper where it says when Marie and I first met. “Second grade, it says,” which can’t be right because I don’t remember her.
He reads more, and informs me, “She said you bullied her throughout elementary and middle school, that before she knew you got powers, she’d have to restrain herself from freezing you.”
“But-but, I don’t even remember her!”
“Marie said you made fun of her hair, the bangs that her mother gave her, and her eyes,” he continues to read off.
I don’t remember Marie, I remember a lot of kids from that year, but I didn’t bully them. Sure, we all made fun of each other, the boys making fun of the girls for being girls, and the girls making fun of the boys because they’re stupid. The girls would try and get each to look better, we’d point out when we looked stupid and….
And we’d laugh.
We… we would laugh…
Everything was a joke! Fuck.
“Fuck me,” I curse to myself as I move away from the Hood. I realize that, “She must gave took it the wrong way, I didn’t… I mean me and the other girls… we didn’t mean to hurt her feelings but… but like…”
The Hood thinks it’s appropriate to point out, “Maybe the things you made fun of were things she liked about herself.” I glare at him, but not for long because I know he’s right. He’s reading the papers again and tells me, “You made fun of her eyes for squinting.”
“Oh shit,” I groan, remembering how in middle school my dad told me this joke about Chinese people, and I told the class, got myself in trouble. I even remember this girl who specifically ratted me out, I remember marking her as a snitch and-
“Fuuuuccccckkkkkkk, that was Marie…”
“I’m such a piece of shit,” I curse out loud.
“Yeah, sounds like you were,” the Hood remarks, saying it like I don’t already feel super shitty.
God and her dad worked for my mom, what were they gonna do, get his boss’s kid in trouble?
No wonder she hates me, I bullied her, my mother fired her dad, and I didn’t even remember her in any of it!
When I went to the principal’s office, they called my parents and told them how I told everyone my dad’s joke. He came down and grilled them, saying they needed thicker skin. I remember being told I should be able to say what I want, free speech in all. It’s not like the joke was profane, they should teach the kids to laugh at themselves instead of punishing me because other kids are… something…
He can still talk his way out of trouble like that.
“I’ve gotta make this right,” I say as I get up, walking into the pouring rain without my cape, looking throughout the apartments, trying to listen and look where Marie is.
I hear the Hood getting up as he tells me, “She’s not going to listen to you.”
I give him the clearest shoulder shrug that I can. “I’ve been ruining her life for years and I didn’t even remember her name, then there’s what happened with her dad, and I just… she has every reason to use the name ‘Burke’ as a curse, I’ve gotta make it up to her.”
He approaches me and surprises me with my cape. He wraps it around me and the top clips back over my shoulders, leaving my head to still drenched by the rain.
“I didn’t say you shouldn’t do anything, but words aren’t going to mean squat.”
He’s right, goddamn it, I hate how right he is. Marie has no reason to give a shit about what I have to say, but I have to do something. She’s living in what can barely be considered within means, and that’s my mother’s fault.
I can help with that.
I turn to the Hood and ask him, “Please don’t call this shallow, but what if I gave her money? So, she doesn’t have to work for Claire tooth and nail, she can be a kid instead of a working adult. Maybe like, I don’t know, go to community college for something, hire a babysitter, live somewhere that isn’t here!”
He presses his finger to my lip this time when I yell, because we’re trying to be inconspicuous. It’s just…
Thinking about it now, her powers are her meal ticket, a gift that she should be using for her own enjoyment like Tommy and me. I can’t tell anything by his face, but I feel like he’s judging my idea. “Her powers should be something she enjoys, not something for her resume. I mean I don’t use them like that, and with my money, she can move out of here, and she doesn’t have to kowtow to Claire.”
I see him shift at the mention of the Director. What, does it bother him that his supposed family member is taking advantage of Marie, or does he support it?
The Hood raises his hand to me as if to calm me. “I’m not going to call it shallow, you did that earlier remember?” he points out. I want to laugh, chuckle, or really anything but I don’t have it in me. “My problem is the same as before, Marie is not going to care, she’s not going to take your money any more than your word. In fact, she’ll find it insulting, disgusting even that you get to use your privilege to play white savior.”
“What does being white have to do with it?!”
“Only someone who looks like you has the ability to just pay her problems away. Money got Marie into her situation, your money actually, and now it’s going to get her out? You get to save the poor Chinese family in North Aeg, and fill some good behavior sheet out? I hate to break it to you, but people don’t want to be saved and indebted to the same people who put them in the bad situation in the first place.”
Is… is that how people feel? What’s the point of charity if people don’t want it? Like… what I can’t undo what my family has done? I’m not… well…
“So, is it like spite?” I ask him. “You think Marie would rather suffer, than maybe risk me feeling better about what I’ve done?”
The Hood tilts his head at me. “Of course. The rest of us can have pride and self-respect too, it’s not reserved for you.”
I bite my lip, it’s not a point worth arguing. “So, I could give the money to her mom, or her siblings, give them cash when she’s not around, and have them say someone else is doing it. Make it anonymous, so she doesn’t know it’s me.”
“That’s creepy, how would little kids explain that?”
“They don’t have to, just say they found it in the mail,” I explain to him, “because I’m willing to bet that if she doesn’t know it’s me, she’ll take it and use it eventually.”
The Hood nods his head, thinking it over, which can be a good sign or a bad one, I don’t know yet. “Seems like it could work,” he says, which gives me hope, but he warns me, “I don’t know Marie enough to tell if she’d accept that kind of help, but it’s worth a shot.”
“Yes!” I cheer, something could actually get better after the way this shitty day started. It’s all I need.
“Marie! Marie, wake up!”
Shelley’s freaking out, nothing new to being woken up by one of them, but definitely not to her screaming.
My eyes are fluttering open as my brain tunes her out, allowing me to focus on smelling the smoke. Wait, smoke is not common in this apartment.
I look into the kitchen and my brother, Bruce, he’s trying his hand at making dinner. That wakes me up real quick.
I hurry off the couch, but my reflexes are moving before my brain and logic do. Reflex for most people would probably be a fire extinguisher. For me, it’s to hold my hand forward and freeze the pot to stop the smoke at its source.
I run over and move Bruce from his high stool to the ground and look into the bowl. Whatever this kid burned, it’s nothing better than paste now. I can see my little brother shaking in his boots, his nose as red and stuffy as our sister’s. He knows he’s not supposed to cook without me, the microwave being the only exception, and I remind him.
“What do you think you’re doing? You know better than to use the kitchen without me!” I scold him, doing my mother’s job. The thought makes me glance at her and she’s dead asleep in her chair. It’s hard not to look at her and wonder…
Bruce answers me in that smartass way kids can, “But you were here, you were on the couch.”
I groan so loud bringing my hands to my face can’t contain it. I don’t have the brainpower to explain to him how being asleep in the room doesn’t quantify me being present in the kitchen.
I rectify the loophole his kid brain made and tell him, “From now then, only I use the kitchen! I don’t even know what you were making in this pot!”
“Pasta, I was hungry,” Bruce admits as his head dips along with his arms.
“Next time wake me up then.”
“But you were so tired,” Shelley says behind me as she grabs my leg from behind. She admits, “I told him not to wake you up, you looked like mommy so I made him make his own food.”
I fight the urge to drop my face into my hands. I sit back against the counter and just slowly fall towards the ground.
I find myself rubbing my face, just thinking how easy it would be if I just… clock out. I hear their footsteps coming to sit near me on either side. I sigh as I feel them inching closer to me.
I rest my hands on their heads to give them a good scratch, assuring her, “Never be afraid to wake me up, I promise, I might drool but I sleep nothing like mom.”
So, I gave Marie’s brother and sister all the cash I had in my wallet, about a thousand bucks. Marie sleeps like a log apparently, and told them I’d drop off more at exactly nine o’clock every Tuesday or Thursday, depending on whether or not I’m with the team.
They lie to her about less innocent things they tell me, and it was their idea that I should just slip it under the door. As long as Marie knows it wasn’t me, she’ll accept the charity, people in the complex have given them money before.
People know it’s just them.
It’s… it’s amazing how people with so little work hard to help people with even less… I… it’s amazing how easy it is to forget how much I have and how much I don’t use…
Yes, I know that a thousand dollars is only a portion of my weekly allowance, and yes, to me that’s not a lot. To Marie that’s probably not enough, I just… I’ll grab more, I’ll get more, that shouldn’t be hard. Someone risking their life for a job shouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck, or direct deposit to direct deposit, or however Claire pays Marie, I don’t know, I do it for free.
I just want to make sure she has enough that the bills never drain her.
I know that since she can’t know I’m helping her, her attitude towards me certainly isn’t going to change at all, but that’s… that’s okay. I think I can stand to be her punching bag now that I have an idea of what she’s going through, what she’s gone through. I can’t say I understand, but I can learn to take it.
Now… I’m flying home, to my family’s penthouse apartment in South Aeg, which I now realize has bathrooms bigger than Marie’s whole apartment. We used to have a big house when I was younger, but the twins keep getting lost, and both my mom and dad thought less excess space would bring us closer.
Plus, it was closer to work and an excuse to explain why I wasn’t going to the private school outside of the city, too far away.
It was kind of ironic, the apartment we live in now is the size of a whole floor when we were trying to get rid of excess room. It’s from an upscale apartment complex that our family owns, though my mom thinks of real estate as a side business to Burkestone’s manufacturing and energy divisions.
Being that my identity isn’t really secret, it’s no worry to land on my apartment’s floor, with the newly open pool for the spring. I love it, it wraps around a corner and overlooks Aegis City.
When I land, I see that everyone is still up, but I missed dinner. Everyone probably ate separately, that happens when not all of us are home.
I want to take a dip in the pool, but I also want to go to bed. I hate the feeling of wanting to do something when your body is screaming at you to go the fuck to sleep.
I hadn’t expected anyone to wait up for me, but both of my parents did tonight. As nice a gesture as that is, I just want to drop dead without delay, my arms feel like twenty-ton weights.
They’re sitting on the couch together, worrying about me as they watch the news. Ever since I saw Marie’s small place… I can’t help but compare the size of mine to hers. I can fit her living room and kitchen in the distance between the door and where my parents are sitting.
Perspective is nice and all, but God, is it depressing. Thank God, I don’t know any mind readers because I can’t help how bad this all sounds.
My parents both get up from the couch, and it’s hard not see how Marie has nothing and not think about what you have. Her mom doesn’t even speak, my mom hops over the back of the couch to run and hug me. I’d think she’d have superspeed based on how fast she got from the couch to me, but that’s me not paying close enough attention.
“I know you’re bulletproof and everything but when your father told me the thugs today were using crazy death rays, I just… I couldn’t do anything but worry,” she goes on and on.
She’s not usually like this, even before my powers showed themselves. I think now that I’m out of her conceptual grasp of knowledge she’s going to freak now and then. At least I don’t have to doubt that she loves me.
When she pulls back, I’m reminded of what I’ll look like in my forties, assuming I age the same as a normal person which is too early to tell.
Essentially, my mom is pretty, she looks thirty when she’s in her late forties, early fifties? I should know my mom’s age shouldn’t I…?
Oh well, most people would think being the CEO of a major corporation would give her more gray hairs, but nope.
While she keeps me from seeing Dad, I tell Mom, “Don’t worry, I’m laser-proof too, though I knew that ahead of time.”
“Well, knowing that now helps me.”
Dad moves his hand to her back to gesture her out of the way. He still has his hair slick back from work, dressed in his shirt and tie.
He lets Mom worry about my health, he asks me how I’m doing. “There’s my slugger, you okay after today?”
I’m not, but not because of anything he knows. “What do you mean?” I ask him.
“When the attack at that church went public, I made a few calls and found out that one of the hostages died,” he reminds me. “How are you dealing with that?”
In all that happened today, I didn’t consider the death of a man all that much. That says even more shitty things about me, I bet the Hood doesn’t think twice.
And how have I dealt with a man dying? Shit, I haven’t dealt with it, I haven’t thought about it. Now I’m having a bunch of feelings about it all at once, so that’s great. Someone died because I couldn’t get a plan together in time, and that’s because of emotional baggage I put off dealing with.
A man died because of me and I haven’t given him one thought.
Marie’s right, I am a piece of shit.
“You know, Dad, not well,” I tell him, and before they try to coddle me and coax me into crying it out in their arms, you know because I’m the girl, I don’t have to be tough they tell me. I hope they tell that to Chester and Danny, I never see it.
I move from under my dad’s hand.
I take quick glances at their expressions faster than they can even recognize it. I see the shock and worry on their faces and they have reason to be worried. The cold shoulder isn’t something they’ve gotten from me in a long time, but this is the first time in a long time where I thought they can’t understand what I’m going through.
I mean, I know they can’t. People don’t get murdered because of their mistakes.
I mean, Mom would never think what happened with Marie’s dad was her fault, I can’t imagine that the more I think about. If it helped the company, then it was the right decision.
“Wait a second,” Mom calls to me, or really orders me. When she grabs me, I have to remember to not throw her with the swing of my arm, super strength problems.
She moves her hand from my arm to my hand as her other hand goes to my cheek. “I know you have to be tired, but I want you to know one thing before you go get your deserved rest,” she tells me, quelling me like the best sweet talker I know.
“You make me and your father so proud, and do you know why?” I thought she was only going to tell me something, not make me guess. She taps my chest, where my italicized ‘E’ sits on a crest.
When I twist my head at her, showing her my annoyed face, she narrows her eyes as her smile grows more facetious. “What does this crest stand for?”
Now I wasn’t expecting that kind of question. I mean technically it stands for ‘Espada,’ the ‘hero’ name everyone’s supposed to call me by, marketing and PR bullshit and whatnot. When PR showed me this costume and this ugly ‘E’ I almost barfed…
… but everyone else just loved it.
That would be too obvious an answer though. I kind of want my crest to mean something more than my name. I want it to mean, “Truth and justice,” and I feel myself smiling as I say these things, feeling energized at the idea that I could stand for things like that, but I notice Mom twisting her head like I’m crazy, my answer is wrong.
My next best guess is, “Safety?” That makes sense, I protect people, but she raises her eyebrows like I should have gotten it by now. “Peace?” That’s a stretch even for me but I’m out of things to guess.
Mom chuckles at my cluelessness, and tells me the answer. “It stands for Espada.”
Well of-fucking-course, it was the obvious choice.
“It stands for Emily Burke,” which that makes sense, I guess, my real name and hero name both start with an ‘e,’ but where is she going with this? “You’re a pillar of our family.”
Of course, and now I feel like I do whenever Marie calls me Burke instead of Emily. The last name comes first even though it’s supposed to be the last name.
Dad comes up behind me and places a hand on my shoulder, telling me how, “Right when we thought there wouldn’t be enough of a legacy for you and your brothers, you make one on your own.”
Ah, so what, is superhero work a third pillar? There’s the corporation, the politics, and the heroics to make people realize we’re not that bad?
Now it’s clear, to my family or at least my parents, me being a superhuman is how the Burkes keep a good image with every layoff or bill they have a hand in. Being Espada means that the Burkes are protecting Aegis City, and it’s up to me to make that the way people see us.
Now I get it, and I want to forget it. Not that I’m angry or resentful, I only want to stop feeling like I should hold everything on my shoulders because I have super strength.
“Thanks Dad, Mom, I really appreciate you saying that,” I say halfway through a yawn, “but I really want to sleep more than talk.”
“Of course,” Mom says, “you’ve earned it.”
Before they can say anything else, I super-speed walk away to the dark corridor that leads to our rooms.
I’m not trying to sound spooky; the floor is covered by too nice a carpet to be spooky, but for some reason the hall is never lit. Mine’s at the end, and as I walk past the twins’ game room I hear the explosions coming from their video games. I’ll see them in the morning.
I walk past Danny’s room, remember how Shelley and Bruce aren’t even twins and they share a room. Danny and Chester each have their own room and a game room to themselves.
If Marie and I ever become friends, fat chance that is, maybe I can ask her if they want to play here. I can make the twins share, though getting Danny to share anything will be harder than fighting the Hood, that I know.
My room is pretty dark with the window shades down.
One nice thing about floating is I don’t accidentally step on any of my stuff on the floor, because I am one of those people with everything on the floor. I strip out of this costume, taking longer than I wish it would, and flop onto the bed.
I wish one of my superpowers was to be one of those people who can just turn their brain off and sleep. My body is tired from my arms to my legs, I even feel the sweet burn of my eyes with my eyelids shut, but my mind doesn’t stop. It just keeps going and I hate it!
If my mind is going, so are my senses, besides sight of course. I feel the plush and fake fur of my blanket, I’m not even under it and still feels so nice. I smell the detergent that makes my nostrils flare but not so strong that it hurts. The thing that hurts is that I can hear everything in the penthouse now that I’m resting.
Tuning out the video games is easy. I’ve been tuning out my brothers for years, but tuning out my parents as they go back to working at home… that’s much harder.
Ever since I got these powers, they’ve grown more potent as I’ve learned to use them, and I hear things I don’t want to hear.
Listening to Dad’s phone call in the kitchen is definitely one that I wish I could ignore, but now I feel guilty trying to tune it out. I never told them of my heightened senses, I thought it would make things tense, but now I’m suffering from listening to my dad and the person on the phone.
He’s talking to some NRA rep right now if I had to guess. “How are we doing with Aegis City’s own Second Amendment… what are we calling it, the California Preservation Act?”
My dad mocks him, “Oh, you actually remembered this time.”
“What can I say, I can only ignore you for so long,” the guy jokes, “now… how’s it coming? What the hell is this gonna cost?”
I can hear him getting a little snippy with Dad, and Dad shuts that down pretty quick before it can be a thing.
“Lose the tone, Rick,” my dad tells him, shutting the guy up.
Never uses it with me, he uses it on Danny and Chester so there are perks of being daddy’s little girl, I guess.
“As I said earlier, I need support for the bill to loosen up the gun control law in this city. Run the commercials and ads, I know they’re not cheap, but the donations should cover it. We want everything telling the locals that it would make them feel safe, provide more tax revenue, pay off state debt, let us lower taxes on everything, which it could.”
The guy on the phone scoffs at my dad, “Barely.”
“Well, it looks like they’re buying it, and they’re calling Hoff-dick’s office like there’s no tomorrow, and if we keep saying that the more money from more guns we get, it can go to them, they’ll buy it.”
I can hear the chuckle come through the phone, prompting the same response from Senator Burke.
“I only said it can go to them,” he repeats in a mutter.
“I know, you don’t need to tell me,” the other man says, “thanks for alleviating my worries.”
“Anytime Rick, anytime,” my dad says before he hangs up.
He didn’t say goodbye, that’s pretty rude, almost as rude as lying to people. He’d probably tell me about how their rights aren’t being controlled, and while that’s a good point I wish there was a different way.
You shouldn’t have to fuck people over, why act like you’re helping people when you don’t care about that? Like, what are we gaining? More money?
My mom is on the phone too. I don’t want to go to bed feeling like shit because of my last name, but I can’t help it, my ears work in overdrive.
I hear my mom talk first after my dad goes quiet. She’s asking for more information about a pending lawsuit from a board member or a CFO or something, I don’t know who she talks to.
“So, he’s saying that our false inspections are why the machine malfunctioned?” she mumbles as I hear the pen moving.
The other voice is sounding more like her assistant as she reads it back, “Yes, and that’s what caused the loss of several fingers on his right hand.”
I can hear my mom sigh upon hearing that. “Is it true?” my mom asks.
“You okayed the inspections for the factory productions period if memory serves me right,” her assistant informs her. Jesus Christ, anything to keep production working.
Now here comes the part where my parent disappoints me like the other did, and I have to convince myself that they’re not so bad to everyone who’s not me, just like everyone who’s not me says they are.
Instead, Mom has to confuse me, and suggest that Burkestone can do something else. “Tomorrow we’ll offer to settle, full benefits, and what he was asking for. It’s not that much, and in the long run it’ll save us the money that would cover up the legal trouble of a faulty inspection.” I’m a little less disappointed, she’s not going to crush this poor man like she easily could. “He just has to swear to keep his mouth shut.”
Her assistant for some goddamn reason asks her, “Are you sure, Ms. Burke?”
“I don’t want to deal with shit like this,” my mom mutters, and I want to hope that she says this as she’s closing her eyes and making a guilty face, especially as she finishes, “the headache it’ll cause is priceless, well out of our pockets.”
“Yes, Mrs. Burke.” “Goodnight, Miss Goodman.”
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