Tuesday, October 1, 2013

His Name Is Alan Thompson

There are times when you say or think something melodramatic and you know it’s melodramatic even as you’re saying or thinking it.  Then there are times like now when I honestly think I have the worst timing in the history of the world. 

Alan Thompson’s sedan just pulled into the driveway. 

Alan works for OPHR, the Office for Post-Human Relations—a hastily thrown together government organization tasked with managing the seemingly overnight explosion of post-human activity.  Post-human being fancy word for people with superhuman abilities. 

When people started realizing that super powers didn’t come from being hosed down with gamma radiation or magical animal bites, but seemed to be cropping up in children almost at random, OPHR stepped in and assigned one of their branches to reach out to children with post-human abilities and make sure they don’t break bad.  Alan’s one of those guys.

Alan Thompson is basically my caseworker.  Boone’s too, after his initial caseworker retired.  And now Alan’s walked in on me with my bag of superhero paraphernalia slung over my shoulder and about to pass out from a nice mixture of exhaustion and frostbite.  All this only a few months after he sat me down and told me the Rhodes family is probably the last home in the area that can or will accept me.  So if I fuck up here I get relocated in a big way.  New city hours away from any place I’ve ever known, mandatory therapy sessions, and a new case worker since Alan won’t leave the city just to keep up with his most obnoxious ward. 

Alan might not be my favoritest person of all time, but I’ve put a lot of work into breaking him in, I don’t wanna have to repeat that process.  And I sure as fuck don’t wanna spend any more time than I already have sitting on a shrink’s couch answering every question like I’m a famous movie character or pretending to be a deaf mute.  That stopped being fun after the fifth or sixth time.

A new city.  Eight, nine months ago I probably wouldn’t have cared about leaving the city.  Not much to tie me to it then, but at this point I’ve developed a certain fondness for a few of this city’s residents.  And I’m hoping one of them in particular feels the same way about me.

Alan smiles when he sees me.  I wince and hope for the best.  I haven’t even had time to check my face for bruises.

“Heya Wesley.  How’s it going?”

“S’alright.  You?”

“Busy as ever.  You and Boone are neither my first nor my last stop of the day.  D’ya know if Boone’s home?”

“I haven’t even walked in the house.  You know as much as I do.”

“Awfully late for you to just be getting home from school, taking up some extracurriculars?”

Alan Thompson is a boring guy who asks boring questions in a cheery voice.  “Sorry, Alan.  The first rule of Malcolm McDowell High School extracurricular activities is that you do not talk about Malcolm McDowell High School extracurricular activities.”

He’s never really warmed to my sense of humor. 

He’s also gotten a little passive-aggressive with me the last few months.  I get the impression he’s expecting me to fuck this up and ruin all the hard work he’s put into me.

His cheek twitches.  “So, still getting along with everyone?  How’ve you been?”

I’ve taken to ignoring it.  He goes back to boring, cheery guy quickly enough.

Been lovely, Alan.  I had a little interpersonal trouble with this one stabby drug dealer I tracked down.  He threw me into a park bench and then fell into the little pond, knocked himself unconscious and nearly drowned.  But I think we’re cool now.  The police seemed a little irked about the whole thing, but I’m okay with that relationship being one of misplaced suspicion and running away. 

Oh, and the tension between me and Susan because she’s freaked out about my whole vigilante shtick.  A shtick she wasn’t supposed to know about in the first place because, well, you don’t just tell your foster mother that “hey!  I run around town dressed like a lunatic and getting into fights with criminals!”  But don’t tell anyone I told you, Alan.  You’re not supposed to know either.  Especially since that probably constitutes as screwing this up and would get me shipped off to wherever the hell the nearest willing foster family is.

I shrug.  “Been stressing about a project for my Geology class.”

“Well, things could be worse.  How about you and Anna?” He winks conspiratorially, back to being my best friend, “You two finally connected?”

Oh yeah, speaking of tension, I’m still not sure she’s entirely okay with my alter-ego either and this deal with Susan has brought that back up.  Not to mention she’s still not thrilled about how I’m not handling said conflict with Susan.

“We’re still kinda circling, but it’s getting there.”  I can’t tell if my smile is convincing, but I keep putting it out there and keep hoping it holds up.

Alan pats my shoulder and smiles much more pleasantly than I do.  “Wonderful.  I really do like the two of you.”  He rubs his hands together.  “Now.  Mind if we get inside?  I’m about to lose my toes.”

I blink the stupid, vacant smile off my face and turn back to the door.  “Yeah.  Shit.  Sorry.”

We both stomp a bit of snow off our shoes before I open the door. 

“Feel free to steal a seat in the kitchen while I go look for Boone.”

He’s never in the study, but I check anyway to kill some time and thankfully he’s not in the living room either.  I stumble up the stairs and crack the bedroom door.  Boone’s lying on the bottom bunk with his laptop.  He nods when I walk in. 

“That Alan at the door?”

Boone looks every bit the layabout he strives to be.  His dark, thick hair lives in a constant state of unruliness that he encourages by running a hand through it like a nervous tic.  He has darker skin than anyone else in the house, like someone, somewhere in his family tree lived south of the equator, as well as the unerring ability to look bored no matter what he’s doing.  He could be watching porn and I’d never know it.

And that’s a thought I wish I could get rid of.

“Yeah, he wants to talk to you.”  I give my next words careful consideration.  Doesn’t matter what the circumstances, if I ask Boone how my face looks, he’ll shit on me.  “Can you see any bruises on my face?”

His eyes flick up to my face and he smiles.  “Were you out costuming about town right before we had a scheduled appointment with Alan, the Superfreak G-Man?”  He laughs.  “Are you high?”

Shut up.  Just—am I bruised?”

He folds his laptop and comes over.  I don’t feel it’s necessary for him to prod my face with his finger, but Boone obviously disagrees.

“No more disfigured than normal.”

I swat his finger away and flick him off.  He bumps me with his shoulder on his way to the door.

“He’s in the kitchen.”

Boone leaves and I collapse.  Am I high?  Why the fuck did I go out on patrol when I knew I had Alan coming by later?  I swear to God, I must want to get caught or something.  Idiot.

I toss my coat, hoodie, and t-shirt on my bed and check the bandages on my shoulder.  The tape’s starting to come loose, but I’m not bleeding through or anything.  I pull the gauze back into place, adjust the tape, and pull the shirt and hoodie back on.  I don’t bother climbing up to my bunk; it’s so much easier to just pass out on the floor for a while. 

Underneath Boone’s bunk, pushed all the way against the wall is world’s shittiest-looking duffel bag.  Strips of duct tape cover two slashes and keep one of the straps intact, clashing with the dark green canvas.  A splotchy orange-brown stain starts around the handle and drips down the side.  A few crusty flecks of brown-ish dried blood still cling to the top and the zipper tag has a chip in it from my tooth.  With all the time I’ve spent filling my bug out bag with everything I need to just cut and run, you’d think I’d eventually replace it with a better bag.  Or at the very least a bag that doesn’t have any of my own blood on it.  I feel kinda bad about using the necessities stipend Susan and Paul give me to freshen up what’s in my bag, but maybe I should get myself a new bag before swearing off spending any more of their money on supplies I’ll only need if I decide to run.

Boone’s back up a minute or two later.  Or maybe it was an hour, I’m not really keeping track.  He jabs his foot into my side before stepping over me and resituating himself in bed. 

“Your turn.”

I don’t bother asking for help getting up.  It takes me a minute, but I manage it all on my own and without any further ridicule.  A man has to have his dignity.  And failing that he has to have an unwavering devotion to pretending. 

Out the door, down the stairs, and into the kitchen.  Alan’s scribbling on a notepad and sipping on a Diet Coke amidst a sprawl of paperwork.  Like I said, he’s a pretty boring guy.  I bet he eats turkey bacon and sugar-free ice cream.  I shiver.

“Give me just a minute to finish this thought, Wes.”

He scribbles a bit more, stuffs some of the papers into a folder, and then drops the folder on the floor.

“So how’s the day treating you?”

Don’t roll your eyes.  Don’t roll your eyes.  Don’t roll your eyes.

“A lot like any other day.  Bit of homework to do then probably a night spent lounging on the couch.”

“Well, sometimes normalcy’s a good thing, huh?”

I’m so against normalcy that I developed an alter-ego, started dressing up in a Kevlar-lined biker jacket and mask and gallivanting around town telling off muggers and purse-snatchers as well as the occasional super-powered vagrant.  But I suppose boredom’s fine for some folks.

“I guess.”

He smiles like I gave a properly enthusiastic response and rests his chin on steepled fingers.  “So, I have to admit, I have a bit of an ulterior motive for this visit.  Would you mind me asking for a favor?”

I perk up a bit.  Every other time Alan’s asked me for a favor it’s usually phrased along the lines of “Do me a favor and keep your nose clean, big man”.  This might actually be the first interesting thing he’s said to me since he told me I was being adopted by a family with a hard-on for superpowered orphans (I think Paul wants to raise the next Spiderman or something).

I nod.  “Whatcha got?”

“You and Boone were part of a program sponsored by OPHR to help post-humans who were orphaned or whose parents felt were in need of care they themselves could not give.”  My attention’s starting to waver a bit.  He sounds like he’s reading off the official pamphlet.  I nod to show I’m still mostly listening.  “I doubt Boone’s ever said anything about it, but he was one of the first generations of kids to be part of it.  He came to our attention young, was met with an enthusiastic response from his adopted family, and grew up happy and well adjusted,” even Alan has to make a face as he says this.  Happy and well adjusted, sure, but Boone’s also a major pain in the ass.  He brightens up quickly.  “He was one of our earliest success stories.”

Irritation and boredom hit—far more familiar responses to Alan talking.

“With Boone’s success and The Rhodes’ enthusiasm, we decided to approach them about bringing another into the fold.  They are actually the only family to take in a second post-human foster child—and that’s not counting Anna who practically lives here as well.”

He smiles like he isn’t rattling off the most boring possible description of a fairly unique situation.  I nod and consider chewing off my own thumb to end this conversation faster.

“You’ve been here for about six months now and things seem to be going much better here than anywhere else.  What I’m really trying to ask here is if you wouldn’t mind giving me a little write-up on your experiences here.  Give me something in your own words, not just our little conversations, but a real explanation of how things work around here.  Have some fun with it.”

Sugar-free ice cream, I swear to God.

“Plus, this can be a good way to show that you’re really making an effort here.”


I wonder if I’m the only one who gets the passive-aggressive treatment from Alan.  I’d like to think I’m that special.

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