“Oh, come on!”
Boone snorts, finally getting his breathing back to normal.
“It’s hard enough to get any respect without everyone thinking I’m some idiot teenage Peter Parker wannabe!”
“Aren’t you just some idiot teenage Peter Parker wannabe?”
“That is so freaking beside the point! As if I didn’t get enough shit as it is, now I’m gonna get ‘kiddo’ and ‘sport’ thrown my way like a hot chick catching cat calls! There is no way I deserve this!”
Boone ruffles his hair. “I think you deserve it.”
“You’re an asshole.”
Anna pokes her head in.
“Why’s Boone an asshole?”
I arch an eyebrow at her. “That might be the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard.”
She rolls her eyes, “Okay, why is Boone an asshole now?”
I grumble and wish I could throw something at the television. “Some damn reporter-guy poked around in my costuming business, talking to some of the people I helped or jailed and even the police who cleaned up after me. Nobody said anything slanderous like I kicked their baby but the general consensus seemed to be that they were dealing with a…” I wince and sigh and wish everyone would leave me alone, “plucky young man looking out for the average citizen.”
There’s a pregnant moment of silence before the dam breaks and Boone, still a little short of breath, looses a fresh gale of laughter. Anna follows shortly after, neither willing nor able to hold back for the sake of my dignity. She falls forward onto my chair, draped over the back for a minute before falling to the floor.
I look over the arm of the chair at her. “I hope that hurt.”
“Y-you’re—you’re plucky!” She jams her fist against her mouth, shaking.
I hear something coming from the kitchen. I think even Susan’s laughing at me. She doesn’t approve of what I’m doing and she’s laughing at me. My life sucks so unimaginably much.
Boone can’t even form coherent words. He just mumbles a string of muted vowels and consonants in between throat-strangling bouts of laughter. I throw the remote at him. He gets his arms over his head in time to block it, but the remote still makes a satisfying whump against his forearm.
I lean the recliner back as far as it’ll go and pull my hood over my head.
The microwave bleats and Susan calls Anna back in to collect her popcorn. It takes a minute for her to regain enough composure to stand and she’s still wheezing when she heads back to the kitchen but she manages. Boone’s crying. Tears are actually welling up in his eyes. Susan comes in, sounding a little out of breath. I try to lean further into my hood like maybe I’ll fall into the abyss if I can only push my skull a little further back.
“Alright, you guys it’s past my bedtime. Sleep well and don’t stay up too late.” Susan leans over the back of my chair and squeezes my shoulder. “Stay plucky, dear.”
I growl and suffer through another round of breathless laughter.
“You people are the worst. I hope you know that.”
“Yeah!” When Boone comes to my aid, I know something’s about to go wrong. Well, more wrong. “You’re all gonna regret picking on a nice young man like Wesley! For shame.”
Susan has to stop climbing the stairs for a second to catch her breath. Anna comes in pressing a bowl of kettle corn against her stomach to keep from dropping it, but she can’t stop a few pieces from rolling down the sides and to the floor. She holds it out between us, pressing her lips together and trying to look bashful. The hysterical, lunatic laughter rolling around her eyes undermines the attempt a bit.
“I brought you a peace offering.”
I glare at her for a second but can’t really get any oomph behind it. I make what I hope is a properly begrudging face and tilt my head from side to side.
“I accept your apology.”
Anna scooches onto my lap, leaning against my chest and dangling her legs over the edge. Wherever she makes contact with me goes hot and tingly. I sit still and hope that if neither of us moves for a few seconds I’ll be able to bring my heart rate back to healthy levels. And keep control of...other things.
“And I never said I was apologizing, that was fucking hilarious. I’m just offering popcorn and my company to soothe your tortured soul.”
I scrunch up my face and shrug. “Suppose that’s close enough.”
I root around the kettle corn with my left hand. I’d almost forgotten how much I love the stuff. It’s like someone drizzled sweet wonderfulness on salty popcorn. I chew through a few handfuls of popcorn until I’m sure that Boone’s caught up in what’s on TV and kiss Anna’s neck once, twice, three times. She presses more tightly against me.
I suppose I’ve had worse nights.
“If you two are gonna start that shit, I’m going upstairs.”
And just like that, a flash fire breaks out across my face. Whoops.
Anna shifts herself as far to the outside of my thigh as she can, as if she’s decided sitting on my lap wasn’t a particularly good idea. I find myself simultaneously agreeing and damning the notion to hell. This must be what adults are always talking about when they use their condescending tone of voice and mention “raging hormones”. Fuck, I hate when people other than me are both condescending and right.
Anna bites her lip for a second before sliding off my leg and onto the floor, taking the kettle corn with her. I can’t help but feel this wouldn’t be so awkward if we weren’t so fresh off a big fight. It’s not true, neither of us are big fans of public displays, but it’s hard to shake the feeling. We’re still sort of feeling each other out again.
Anna sets the bowl in Boone’s lap.
“I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach. You wanna finish it?”
She nods. “Yeah, it’s getting late anyway. If I eat all that now, I’ll still be digesting an hour and a half after I should be asleep.”
You’d think sooner or later, karma would have to start breaking my way. I’m not a big fan of accepting I.O.U.’s, but I don’t think there’s much room to argue with the forces that shape the universe. I’ll just have to hope there really is a sense of balance to things.
I hop off the chair and walk Anna to the door. You wouldn’t think twenty feet could encompass all that much awkward, but I assure you, it most certainly can.
It’s a bit of a strain to wish her a more sophisticated good-bye than monosyllabic grunts. “I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow.”
An awkward smile and a kiss on the cheek from Anna and she’s out the door.
Not a good day.
Boone snores like a small, well-worn bellows being pumped slowly and carefully. A raspy inhale, slight pause, and a long wheeze. It’s not loud enough to keep anyone awake, but it’s hard not to notice in the silence of 2:17am. Thoughts of Anna and I keep winding their way around my wondering what it means that I’m getting all this media coverage. Both of which crash over the nagging worry that all this attention is gonna get me in trouble with the bigoted folks who just wish us post-human freaks would leave the regular people alone. And that’s not even considering what OPHR might be thinking of the displays of the Sentinel. Them being the big-shot post-human organization, I imagine they keep track of as much post-human activity as they can. And I still haven’t let go of my grudge against Boone. I stare at the ceiling, watching the shadows twist and wave, not really trying to get to sleep anymore.
It’s official. I can’t sleep.
Seems like a good time to sneak out the back door and burn off a bit of restless energy. After all, it is Saturday morning. Not like I have anything to wake up for.
An overturned ice cream truck. Of all the things I expected to see tonight, an overturned ice cream truck wasn’t even on my radar. Overturned and lying in the middle of the street with the rear door ripped off. The door’s on the sidewalk nearby. I climb on top of the truck—er, I guess I’m climbing onto the side of it technically—and look around. No signs of explosives, no spike strips; I don’t see anything that could flip a big truck like this. The front end isn’t crumpled either.
What the shit?
I squat down over the driver’s side door. No one’s home. No blood either, thankfully. Seatbelt’s not cut. The airbag’s been deployed and deflated. I pull the door open and lower myself into the cab. It’s a narrow fit and when I crouch down to get a better look at things, it feels even narrower. I have to keep my knees bent straight ahead or I won’t fit at all. Glass crunches beneath my boots. The keys aren’t even in the ignition.
Seriously, what the shit?
I can’t even begin to figure out where to go from here.
Pressure’s starting to build in my temples like my head’s been dropped on a workbench and clamped in a vice. This is definitely not helping me sleep. Why do I do these things? I climb back out and sit down over the front of the truck, letting my legs dangle. Truck’s flipped for no reason. No sign of anything or anyone. No one’s investigating. Doesn’t even seem like anyone’s called the cops.
What is an ice cream truck even doing driving around this late?
I hop down and walk around to the back of the truck. I poke my head in. It’s cool in there, but not freezer-cold. Same temperature as the outside world. Maybe the motor burnt out or maybe it just stops working once the truck’s engine stops running. I dunno.
I’m about to take a closer look inside when that hair-raising, eyes-boring-into-the-back-of-my-head sensation washes over me so intensely that I actually expect someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to “please step away from the vehicle with your fingers laced and placed on top of your head”. I turn, running my eyes over the street. A car drives down a cross-street two blocks away. Someone’s yappy little pocket-dog yips inanely. I shift my gaze to the rooftops. Steam billows up from a couple roofs. Nothing else. No cop leveling a service pistol at me. No criminal crew rocking assault rifles, ski masks, and covered in ice cream. No manically grinning super villain types prowling the roofs. I take a couple deep breaths, (hold them, and then exhale) trying to steady the overly enthusiastic beating of my heart.
Getting worked up over what’s probably just some soccer mom with insomnia peeking out her bedroom window. Great.
Back to the truck. It’s hard to shake the feeling that someone’s watching me, even if the actual feeling itself is mostly gone. But unless I’m willing to comb every inch of the block at street-level and then on the roofs, I’m gonna have to ignore it and get on with life.
I spend thirty seconds in the truck before the headache comes back, bulling past the feeling of being watched and reestablishing itself as the dominant presence in my head. There’s no ice cream in the truck either, just a couple empty boxes.
I quit. Sooner or later someone else is gonna find this and they can figure it out or outsource it to Batman or whatever it is that needs to be done to solve the Ice Cream Truck Mystery (sounds like a freaking Nancy Drew book) and I’ll catch the outcome in the news. If I keep at this I’m just gonna fry my brain and spend the rest of my weekend a useless vegetable. Mind you, that’s not a huge outward change from my usual weekend behavior, but the constant headache I’d be contending with is something I’m just not willing to deal with.
I step out of the back and poke the tires (nothing) before officially calling it quits. No use beating my head against a wall.
Not the best night out I’ve ever had.
I think I missed something.
Anna rolls her eyes. “Carla Flores. That reporter with a thing for post-humans? She talks about you in her latest article.”
After the last bit of publicity I got, I kinda wish people would just leave me alone.
“What does she say?”
“Good things. You’ll have to read for yourself if you want more.”
“I think I’d prefer if someone just called me a menace and started a campaign against me. I’m getting pretty tired of everyone saying nice things about me. No one’s scared of the nice superhero.”
Anna pats my cheek. “Poor baby. Do you want me to go talk to them and tell them to be nicer to you?”
“No!” I crease my forehead and frown, pouting. “That’s the exact opposite of what I want!”
Anna presses her lips together, smothering a laugh.
I growl and turn back to the TV. It would probably be easier to check online news sites for an update on the Ice Cream Truck Mystery, but my laptop’s all the way upstairs and I really don’t feel like fetching it. Physically gifted post-humans are entitled to a bit of laziness too, especially on Saturday mornings.
“And in this morning’s post-human news, an overturned ice cream truck was discovered last night on Mason Street downtown. The truck was turned onto its side and the rear door was ripped off, no injuries were reported. The police gave an official statement this morning, connecting this bizarre event with the post-human vigilante known as Lodestone. Known for her magnetic powers and work targeting child offenders, Lodestone is believed to be responsible for rescuing a child that had been imprisoned in the back of the truck by two men looking to sell her into slavery. In a statement taken by the police, the victim said that Lodestone stopped the truck as they were passing a stop sign, turned it over, and rescued her from the truck. With the victim safe, Lodestone apprehended the men, left them on the front steps of the police station, and brought the victim to the hospital. With…”
“Magnetic powers? Come on! How was I supposed to figure that out? I would’ve ranked alien prank above Lady Magneto…”
Anna looks over at me like I’ve just sprouted a horn and a couple tails. “What?”
“I found that truck last night. That overturned ice cream truck full of kiddy pervs? I found it overturned and completely empty last night. I couldn’t sleep so I went out and about and I found the truck they were talking about, but I couldn’t figure the first thing out about it.” I shrug. “So I left, vowed to catch it on the news from the mouths of people who got it from the mouths of experts, and now here I am. Thoroughly confused.”
She presses her lips over a smile. “You found an overturned ice cream truck and your first thought was aliens?”
“What? No. Well, not my first thought…and you weren’t there last night. That shit was eerie.”
She pats my cheek. “I’m sure it was, Wes.”
I shrug her hand off and pretend not to notice how hot my face is. “It wasn’t a serious thought or anything…I just...shut up.”