Author's note: One day, I found myself wondering what would happen if someone found out the secret identity of a... Show full author's note »
Unexpected VisitorThey say that a picture is worth a thousand words…but in this life I’ve found that most sayings like that don’t apply to me. Lately I’ve been wondering if whoever came up with this quote was talking about normal pictures; the ones that your parents dress you all up for every school year just to get them back to find that you closed you eyes, or didn’t smile with your teeth; the photos that record each stage of an infants life, put together in a scrapbook to show their blossoming into a child; the photos that catch a rare breath taking sunset just before the grey of twilight.
The picture Andrew took me was worth more than just a thousand words. It was more than a proverbial knife ready to sever all the lies I had built up to protect myself. It could mean the end of me forever.
To cope with it, I tried making up a list of words of worth for that picture--because I’m a natural-born list-maker--and I thought up a few more than just a thousand words. At the top of my list were the worst possible outcomes that the picture could bring: Sudden lack of anonymity; eminent death; a threat to my loved ones. The list went on and on, and I knew that I was toast.
To set the record straight, I’ve never done anything remotely along the lines of what you might be expecting of me by now. I’m not a crooked senator caught up in a scandal, and Andrew isn’t just some skeezy photographer trying to make a quick fortune by documenting said scandal. I’m actually only a seventeen year old girl, and Andrew happens to be a good friend of the family (at least where my parents were concerned).
So why am I afraid of what the picture will bring? That’s a good question.
For about two years now, I’ve been leading a double life, only one of which my parents and peers know about. In that life, I’m the studious Riley Marie Giovanni; all legs and no grace. I attend Wainscot Private Academy on a full scholarship for playing the cello and I put up with the itchy grey jumper they call a uniform. I wear thick glasses you might see on someone over sixty, and I glance over the top of them, because I don’t really need them.
When I come home to our two bedroom apartment, I stow my book bag inside and then race downstairs to bus tables for five hours in my parents’ cookie-cutter café. In this life, to be seen or heard is a failure on my part, because my goal is to be anonymous, just because it makes things a little easier.
At night, when my parents crash in their closet sized-room, I change into something less anonymous, and slip out on the fire escape to start my second life: that of a spunky, pink-haired, crime-fighting superhero.
I hope by now that the puzzle pieces are starting to come together for you. If not then let me go further to tell you that the picture Andrew took of me was when I was taking the pink wig off while I was still dressed as my superhero alter ego. A picture that showed my secret identity being revealed.
“Riley,” he chuckled, glancing up from the eyepiece of his camera to look at me, “Aren’t you a little early for Halloween?”
“W-what are you doing here?” I asked.
“I moved into my new apartment a few blocks down, and your parents invited me over for supper to celebrate,” he replied, still looking at me with a quizzical frown as he twisted the lens cap back on his camera. “Now what are you-“
“Andrew! You’re here!” My father called from the window two stories up, “Come on up. As soon as Riley gets back, we can chow down.”
I was thankful for two things at that moment: one, my father couldn’t see me on the fire escape; because it was on the side of the building, and two, he had distracted Andrew long enough for me to hurry up and dive through my window out of sight.
That’s the last time I go for a late afternoon patrol, I thought sourly, yanking my leggings off, and unzipping the tight metallic silver dress. I tore my hair out of the wig cap and brushed through my hair frantically, pulling on my school uniform before I climbed out my window again.
By the time I ran around to the front of the building, up the stairs of my parents’ café, and made it to the front door of our apartment, I was breathless.
I sucked in a deep breath, held it for ten seconds, and when I was sure that my heart rate was down, and I once again looked like the docile Riley my parents knew and loved, I opened the door, and trudged in.
Mom smiled up at me as she poured the red wine into three glasses, distributing them to Andrew and my father, while keeping one for herself. “Hey, how was Cello practice?” She asked, disappearing in the kitchen to grab a basket of breadsticks to put on the table.
I heaved a fake sigh, “Oh, okay I guess. Although I screwed up on a couple of notes and Mr. Sidle started shouting in French again.”
That was a lie. My Cello practice had actually been cancelled for the day because Mr. Sidle’s mother was having surgery. I had taken those three hours of cancelled Cello practice and put them towards my patrol today in the daylight, and boy, had that robber’s face looked priceless. I think he wet himself.
“That man,” she said, shaking her head with a tiny smile.
I followed her into the dining room, and put on a fake surprised look when I saw Andrew sitting at the opposite end of the table from my dad. “Andrew! What are you doing here? It’s been what, two years since I’ve seen you?” I asked, hoping for my sake that he’d play along.
Andrew furrowed his brow at me, taking in my school uniform, but he gave me a weak nod anyway.
“Andrew got an apartment close to ours, Riley; didn’t your father tell you?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, sitting down in a chair off to Andrew’s right.
“Guess it slipped my mind,” Dad said, sipping on his wine, his eyes scrutinizing me, “that’s an interesting fashion accessory, Rainbow.”
“Hmm?” I asked.
“I don’t recall aviator goggles being part of your school’s uniform.”
I touched the goggles I had forgotten to take off, and put on my best fake smile, “I forgot I had them on. We were talking about WWI, and I brought them in to show my class. Instead of stuffing them in my backpack, I decided to just put them around my neck so they wouldn’t be damaged.”
“That’s my girl,” dad said, and I relaxed, but maybe it was too soon for that.
Mom gave me a funny look, “You know Riley, speaking of which, I didn’t see you bring your backpack home today. Are you shirking from your homework again?”
“Crap!” I hissed, trying to regain my composure. I was making so many mistakes; too many. It was all that stupid Andrew’s fault. “I must’ve forgotten it back at school.” I said, smacking my forehead.
That was another lie. My back pack was sitting upstairs in my room, next to the costume I had neglected to shove in my closet before ducking out the window.
Dad shook his head sternly, “You seem to be forgetting a lot today, Rainbow. Don’t make a habit of it, or you’ll wind up like me.”
I stabbed the pasta on my plate a little too forcefully, and I tried to ignore Andrew who was openly staring at me in front of my parents. I felt my head snap up, and I flashed a smile at him, “So why’d you move? Was your other apartment too small or something?”
“No…I got a job as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper. You know, taking pics of whatever catches my eye, and hoping that their good enough to sell to the paper,” He replied, and then he got a coy smile, “And the pictures that I really need to take are one’s of that vigilante, what’s her name…Glimpse, isn’t it?”
“Fat chance of that,” my dad said, “She only comes out at night.”
“Oh, I’ve actually spotted her in the daylight,” he replied, and I kicked him under the table. Andrew bit his lip, glaring over at me.
“If you ask me, she should just let the cops handle the criminals. Vigilantes are just another form of a criminal. They think they are above the law.”
“Nevertheless, a photo of her secret identity would make me a millionaire,” Andrew said, and he glanced at me. I felt my face pale.
So maybe he was a skeezy photographer trying to get a fortune for a scandal. The scandal being a seventeen year old girl named Riley turning out to be the superhero, Glimpse.
Through the rest of dinner, I watched for any sign of him about to blab what he saw on the fire escape, but he only talked about boring things that my parents seemed to love, and he kept his camera safely tucked away in his bag.
At nine thirty, Andrew collected his bag and said he needed to hit the road despite my parents’ protests. I offered to walk him downstairs, and he accepted all too willingly. We walked down the stairs wordlessly until we came to the landing, and then he turned around with his poker face on.
“Mind telling me what’s going on, Glimpse?” He asked, picking a pink strand of hair off of my uniform that thankfully my parents hadn’t noticed.
“Not here,” I hissed, “Meet me up on the roof at ten thirty, not a second later, and bring your camera.” I left him there, stomping angrily up the stairs again.
I waited for that long agonizing hour, wedged between my parents on the sofa while they watched the Bill Cosby show. Thankfully, they retired earlier than usual, giving me the time to head up stairs, and change into my costume. After making sure my wig was secure, I ducked out of my window, and climbed the fire escape all the way up to the roof five stories above my window.
Andrew was waiting there for me, sitting on an old forgotten crate, with his camera in his hands.
“Well I guess that settles it then,” he chuckled, not looking up at me.
“You are her. You’re Glimpse,” Andrew said, shaking his head with a smile, “I thought maybe, just maybe that I had caught you coming back from something stupid like Comic con, but now that you came up here dressed as Glimpse, I know you have to be her.”
I gritted my teeth angrily. I was so stupid! He hadn’t been totally sure, and now I had confirmed it for him! I was an idiot.
“Give me that camera. Don’t give me a reason to hurt you,” I hissed, holding out my hand expectantly.
He tossed it to me, and I couldn’t believe it was going to be that easy. I turned the camera on, and put it on display mode, and swore softly under my breath when I saw the message that said ‘no memory stick’.
“You didn’t honestly believe that I’d bring it here, did you?” Taking the camera from me, and waving it tauntingly in front of me, “I’m not stupid. I wasn’t sure if you were Glimpse, but I knew if you actually were, you’d have the power to take the camera from me. So I stashed the memory stick somewhere safe, after I made several copies, and set up a dead man’s switch to send that picture to everyone here in the city if I don’t switch it off by a certain time, in case you decide to…I don’t know, get rid of me.”
“What do you want from me?” I demanded, narrowing my eyes suspiciously.
“Everything. I want to know all about your life;both sides of it; no lies. But not right now, judging from the hour at night of our clandestine meeting, I’ll wager you’re planning to go do a little crime fighting while mommy and daddy sleep comfortably in their beds. Don’t worry about when or where, I’ll find you,” he said, smiling wickedly, acutely aware of the threat in his last three words.
He snapped one last picture of me for the road, “That’s a keeper,” he murmured, and darted down the fire escape out of sight.