Author's note: I just had to write more. I get hooked on my chracters, and I have to finish with them.
Hero SyndromeA lot of things can happen in the brief second it takes the flash on a camera to catch life and preserve it on a screen. A person can blink, or forget to smile, ruining the shot, forcing the photographer to take another. Andrew believes these are the best kind of pictures, the ones that people frown at because they are imperfect. He loves them because they show our true human nature, instead of the stiff, lifeless portraits that we as society have become accustomed to. He loves these pictures, because they can make a statement that no one could miss; could change two lives so completely.
Lately, my life has been like that; a flash, with every event happening so quickly that it gives me whiplash as I’m thrust from one event to another, with no time to catch my breath. Three months ago, I almost died. I almost died because of a secret I was convinced I needed to keep.
I had been shot twice. One in the stomach; it had passed clean through. The other missed my heart by a half inch, and lodged itself there, only to be taken out sometime later. But those are the breaks for a superhero. You protect everyone, and everything, even to the death—in my case almost death.
Now that I think about it, life can not go on without an event to start it. If I had not been out patrolling the city in the afternoon instead of my nightly patrol, Andrew wouldn’t have had a chance to take a picture of my secret identity being revealed. If he had not blackmailed me with that picture, I wouldn’t have gotten to know him as well, which would’ve meant I’d be dead right now. He was the one who distracted Black Wrath; he was the one to carry me out, just before Black Wrath’s lair exploded. He was the one who called 911. He was the one I loved.
Andrew saving me also caused several different things to happen indirectly. He was the one who gave me the courage to tell my parents what I had been really doing when they were sleeping soundly in their bed. He was the one who told them that he had been secretly seeing me since he had moved in a few blocks away.
Needless to say, my parents weren’t too thrilled about either truth, and I think it would’ve been better to keep up with the lie. They hated Andrew when they learned that I had a boyfriend at all, let alone a twenty two year old man, when I was still only seventeen, but they had to choke back their sour remarks, and betrayed glares around me, because otherwise I’d pout or mope around, and the doctor had told them that I was at a high risk for depression given the circumstances.
School was the major issue on my list of things that made me unhappy. After missing out on three months of homework, I flunked all my classes, and my scholarship was revoked, leaving me school-less, so now I’m home schooled by a lady from our church, who used to be a teacher. She comes by a few hours every week, and crams six hours worth of lecture into an impossible hour, and then leaves with her check and a ‘God bless’.
Number two on my unhappy list was restricted movement; the third, was the way my mom got around me, as if she couldn’t handle looking at me being temporarily crippled, but wished I’d stay that way so I couldn’t do anything dangerous like crime fighting that could get me hurt worse.
I heard the ding on the microwave, and I struggled up from the sofa, and walked—well, not quite walked, more like limped—to the kitchen. I hummed happily as I snatched up a potholder from the top drawer, and grabbed the plate of piping hot pizza bagels, but that happiness went away very quickly. It was almost as if she had a radar sense, or had some kind of chip in me that tracked my every movement, telling her that I was in the kitchen. Either way she found me.
Mom snatched my pizza bagels from out of my hands, and dumped them into the trash. “This’ll make you sick,” she said. Without saying another word, she took a bundle of carrots, and celery, and dumped them into a blinder. Once it was an orange-green mush, she poured it into a smaller cup and then handed it to me.
“Mom,” I complained, making a face at the unappetizing vegetable smoothie.
“Don’t “Mom”, me,” she snapped, and busied herself rinsing the blinder out in the sink. I sighed, setting my cup of liquid vegetables on the counter before I hobbled back to the couch, and eased myself down on the couch again, grunting softly, because this tugged at the stitches holding me together, beneath my shirt.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” Mom asked, offering the smoothie.
“No. I think I’ll try wasting away into nothing. I’ve heard it’s not so bad,” I replied, hefting one of my textbooks into my lap. I had been doing nothing but studying for what seemed like a month, which was as long as my mom had been denying me solid sustenance; three weeks longer than what the doctor directed.
Mom plucked the textbook out of my hand, and replaced it with the smoothie. I took a half-hearted sip, gagging slightly on the bumpy clumps of vegetables that weren’t as liquefied as the others. Mom smiled, apparently pleased with my effort to choke the smoothie down, and she handed me the remote to the TV; a decision she almost immediately regretted.
Channel 27 had huge letters rolling across the screen that read: Where is Glimpse? Before a spunky blonde woman in her early twenties, and an older brunette man came on the screen, discussing what they think happened to Glimpse.
Mom quickly seized the remote from me, seeing the distressed look on my face, and the way I leaned forward involuntarily, wanting to hear more. Channel 213 had a man pointing to a pie chart stating that in the past three months, New York’s crime rates had skyrocketed by 25.6%.
On channel 345, a comedian was cracking jokes about how Glimpse’s nappy pink hair must’ve killed her. Channel 356 was Tom and Jerry, but Mom was flipping through the channels so fast that she didn’t even notice. Channel 372, a talk show host was interviewing Black Wrath himself, talking about how he was doing well for himself now that he had no one to stop him.
The TV went black, and Mom flung the remote before I could grab it away from her to turn the TV back on. It took me a few tries, but after the fourth try, I finally was able to get myself off of the couch, to stand up. I bit my lip, and clutched my stomach for a moment, and then set the vegetable smoothie down on the coffee table before I started to head towards the coat closet.
“What are you doing?” Mom asked nervously.
I didn’t answer.
“Where are you going?” She demanded, although she already knew. I was headed towards the closet, to grab my costume. Ever since she learned of my superhero alter ego, Mom had placed my costumes in the downstairs coat closet, so that they could be under her surveillance, to make sure I didn’t decide to sneak out.
“Riley, answer me!”
“You heard them! Something needs to be done. This is all my fault.”
“No,” she breathed, shaking her head desperately with wide pleading eyes as she put herself between me and the closet. “You can’t. You’re hurt.”
“I’m better. Besides, I promise not to fight. I’ll pick some loser criminal robbing a gas station. Common criminals fear me. They always give up without a fight,” I replied. That was a lie. They always fought. No matter if they were only packing a little handgun, or a switchblade, they always fought.
There was a knock at the door, and Mom ran to it frantically, so relieved when she saw that it was Andrew. “Andrew, Oh Andrew! Its terrible! Stop her please. I can’t loose her. She wants to be Glimpse again.”
“Riley,” Andrew called sternly, and I froze, but not because of him. I had grabbed the wrong uniform, the one I had almost died in. The fabric was torn, and crusted with my blood. The fabric quivered in my fingers. “Riley, why do you keep doing this to yourself?” Andrew sighed, shaking my hand gently from the costume.
I shuddered, and backed away slowly, allowing him to close the door. I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell him that I had become addicted with the thing that had almost killed me. I couldn’t tell him that I was suffering from withdrawal; that I needed to be Glimpse.
“Margaret,” Andrew said, refusing to tear his eyes away from me, “If you’d like, I’ll take those costumes and store them at my house, you know, to lessen the temptation.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mom sighed, trying to ignore my crestfallen expression.
“I was also wondering if it would be okay if Riley spent some time with me today. I just want to take a walk, nothing big; probably just around the block and back.”
“I don’t know…”
“Remember what the doctor said. Riley needs her exercise too. She’s not getting any stuck up here all day long.” So now I’m a dog. Great. Andrew is taking me for a walk.
“He’ll have to leave those costumes here if you go with him,” she said, looking at me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her,” he replied, and then he extended his hand invitingly towards me.
I sighed, “Let me change first. My pajamas are for private display only.”
“Okay,” he chuckled, and I attempted the stairs. It took me about five minutes, with several stops and “are you okays” before I finally made it up to my room. All month I had slept downstairs on the couch, not having the strength to climb the stairs, so my room smelt stale and unused when I opened my door.
I grabbed a pair of baggy shorts, and a plain blue t-shirt, stepping into a pair of flip flops when I was done dressing.
The walk downstairs wasn’t as bad, especially since Andrew helped me down halfway, letting my shaky hand grip his. Mom choked out a goodbye, and we exited through the dark café.
“How does an ice cream cone sound?”
“Are you trying to seduce me?” I teased.
“Is it working?”
“It’d work better if you bought me a soy dog instead.” I answered, winking at him alluringly.
He chuckled, stopping to kiss me on the lips once we were out of my Mom’s sight.
We walked three blocks, and stepped into the chilly hotdog restaurant. Behind the counter, Benny greeted me with a big smile, and popped a soy dog in the microwave oven without me even having to ask for it. “What’ll ya have?” He asked Andrew.
Andrew studied the red and yellow menu hanging just below the dim fluorescent lights. “I’ll take two phillies fully loaded.”
Benny smiled, as if Andrew were his new favorite customer.
“Why do you do that to your mother?” Andrew asked when we sat down on the bench just outside of Benny’s Hotdog Express.
“What eat solid food behind her back?” I joked, although I knew what he was referring to.
Andrew rolled his eyes, wiping the ketchup from the corner of his mouth, obviously not amused. “You know you’re not healed enough, and yet you seem to be able to delude yourself into thinking you are, and you scare the crap out of your Mom. I just want to know why you’d risk giving her a heart attack over something you’re not well enough to do in the first place.”
I sighed, “I just get so angry. People think Glimpse is dead. Criminals are running amuck, and Black Wrath is their leader.”
“That’s how New York is supposed to be. It’s not New York without people getting mugged, or banks being robbed,” Andrew replied, brushing his lips lightly against mine. I drew back, and placed a hand on my stomach while the other clamped down hard on my mouth as bile rose in my throat.
I stood up as quickly as I could, and staggered to the alley, upchucking my soy dog. Andrew was at my side in a flash, pulling my curls out of my faces as my stomach heaved painfully.
“I should take you to the hospital…or call your parents,” he murmured, not moving to do any of these things.
“I’m fine,” I coughed, wiping my face with a napkin that he handed me. I stood up straight, my hands shaky.
“C’mon, I’m taking you home,” Andrew said, and he put a supportive arm around my waist, careful not to accidentally touch my stitches. I glanced to the other side of the street, as we made our slow return back to my apartment, and I looked away just as quickly, when I saw a light-skinned dark headed man with a bright pink burn mark on the top half of his face from his hairline to the tip of his nose.
It was Black Wrath. He had to be. I quickened my pace, too chicken to glance back to see if it really was him without his mask on.
Mom practically jumped me when we came home feeling the need to play twenty questions in a high pitched voice when we showed up a little earlier than she thought we would.
I threw a disparaging now-you-see-what-I-have-to-live-with look over at Andrew. “I’m fine,” I replied to her first question, too tired to answer the other nineteen questions she fired off after that. I sank down on the couch, stretching out lengthwise. Andrew picked my legs up carefully, slipping under them to sit down before he set them on his lap. He removed my flips flops from my feet, and massaged my feet for a moment before he gave them a gentle tickle that made me laugh.
Mom left the room, cooling down.
“I love you,” He whispered.
“Love you more.”