complex - part one
Author's note: One of my favorite pieces I've written thus far.
trust issuesI s p e d through the building and exited through the back, not wanting to have to smile at anyone when I didn't feel like it.
I… well, I didn't live there, but I spent all of two years in the middle of L.A. I didn't partake to labels of which parts; I've been through most of it enough to know it. And, I did enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city, the distraction it offered, but sometimes it wasn't enough—which why Trouble might as well be my middle name, since I usually went looking for it.
When it came down to it… I just didn't want to have to think. Thinking of other people was more… therapeutic to me than thinking about where my next meal was coming from. Knowing that I cared more about other people than myself helped me feel good, helped me feel like I was worth something—not counting dollar amounts.
But when I cared about other people, I worried about them like crazy. You will not believe the staggering number of times I'd almost resorted to stalking the person I'd managed to prevent from becoming another death statistic. It was difficult to let them go… even if they were strangers. Like, you know how you (if you're a parent) first send your kid off to school—for the very first time—and you worry about whether they'll make friends or behave or manage to survive a few hours without you? That's kinda how I feel about the person… the would-be victim.
My life was good and bad like that. This hero complex was….
Before I knew it, I found myself on the same street where the bus had stopped. If I went on for a few more blocks, I'd find myself at the library—my previous destination—but I stopped just outside it: the girl and her little brother were sitting on the steps. I was stuck between heading into the building as planned or taking off before they noticed me.
But just when I'd made my decision, the girl looked up. "Hey," she said, smiling. The little boy looked up too, and smiled just as brightly. They barely looked alike now that I was able to look closer. The girl's hair was lighter than the boy's, and his eyes were almost hazel while hers were plain brown. The boy's skin was just a shade darker than hers. Maybe they were a mix of two different races. This was L.A.
"Hey," I said nonchalantly. "What're you doing here?"
"What's it look like?" She smirked. "Name's Chloe. Thanks for what you did on the bus. You're pretty brave, you know that?"
I acted all… you know. "No big deal. You two okay?"
She shrugged. "We've had worse." Her response surprised me—never heard that before—and she noticed, but didn't acknowledge it. "What's your name?"
Chloe's head inclined. "Jake… what?"
I mimicked her. "Chloe… what?" The little boy laughed; made me smile. "What's your name, little man?"
"Joey!" he exclaimed. He didn't do anything else, just sat there and watched us.
"So, what're Chloe and Joey doing outside the library?" I moved a couple of steps closer. Chloe was unfazed by my action, but Joey—with the smile still plastered on his face—moved closer to her, instinctive.
"It's called 'sitting,'" she said, clearly amused. "What're you up to, Superman?"
I raised an eyebrow. "'Superman?'"
She stood up. "Yes, Clark Kent. You think nobody noticed you zooming past to the exit? Like everyone just closed their eyes when you pinned down that dude like you were some beefy wrestler—when you so clearly are not?" I got a little offended by that last part. Like I can have a regular gym membership?
"So, you're sitting here… waiting for me?"
"Yes. I want answers."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "It's gonna be like that? You can trust me, you know."
I highly doubted that. "Can't you just thank me and get it over with?"
She pointed at me. "That. Right there. That's the kind of thing that'll just make me go to the press."
I shrugged. "Go. As if you're the only one who noticed anything. The Almighty Chloe knows all," I said mockingly, my arms flailing to the air. Joey laughed at that.
Chloe looked rattled. "So… you don't care at all?"
I shrugged and went up the steps. "It wouldn't be the first time." I walked into the library, nodded to the woman and headed to my favorite part of the library: the fiction section.
Unfortunately, Chloe was right on my heels—and Joey on hers. "So this is what the Boy Wonder does with his time? Read?"
"Do you have a problem with that?" I said, eyeing the shelves. I wondered if the new arrivals had already been shelved. There was almost a book in the fiction section I hadn't read.
"It's just… weird." She followed me to another aisle; Joey got distracted by the bean bags in the children's section.
"It's weird that I read?" I picked one off and started reading the back.
"No…. I thought you'd be heading to some secret lair or something."
I laughed. "Never heard that one before." I put the book back, taking another one from the same author off the shelf.
"So… what else do you do? Besides read and save people."
I turned to her. "Why do you care so much? I don't even know you." I'd managed to say that politely as possible, then put the book back and move on to the next aisle.
"I'm just curious," she said, following right behind me it almost gave me chills. "Do you have a problem with that?"
"Yes. It's not like I go around telling my life story to complete strangers." I get the irony, okay? "Don't you and your little brother have someplace else to go, other people to annoy?" I picked up another book, but when she didn't respond I looked up.
She looked at me blankly. "When did I say he was my little brother?"
I blinked. "He's not?" I quickly glanced to the children's section; he was flipping through a dinosaur picture book.
Chloe shook her head, looking at me weird.
"Are you babysitting him or something?"
She avoided my gaze and rubbed her shoulder. "You could say that." Interesting….
"So… what, is he your kid?"
She scoffed and punched my shoulder. "Do I look that old to you?"
I rubbed my arm, pretending it actually hurt. "How old are you then?"
"Sixteen, okay?" she said, sounding very irritated. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen, okay?" I mimicked. I put the book back. "Geez, violent aren't we? If you can't handle my questions, then why should I answer yours? I don't owe you anything." I moved on; she followed.
"I know, I know. It's just that I want to know, you know? How you did all those things. You're like… a hero or something."
I smirked. "What would the 'or something' be?"
"I don't know. I'm just saying…. Do other people know?"
Okay, some of her questions had answers that would be crossing some lines. Chloe had no right to any of these answers. I didn't owe her a penny. But the girl looked like she'd been through hell and back.
I barely glanced at her. "Certain peoples know, mostly since it's on a need-to-know basis. And you don't need to know. Got that?"
"What kinds of people? Scientists? Government?" She gasped. "Are you some sort of prototype for super soldiers?"
I had to laugh. "Seriously? Do I look like I fit into any of those categories?"
"And what about you?" I nodded to the little boy. "If Joey isn't your little brother, then who is he? Why do you have him?"
Chloe crossed her arms and glared at me. "Seriously? It's gonna be like that?"
"Seriously." I turned and grabbed two of my picks. "It is like that." I headed to the front desk, glancing at Joey. When I handed the books over to the woman, with my card, I could hear Joey reading from a chapter book. He sounded really confident for a reader his age. Smart. He glanced up when Chloe came out from the fiction section and took his hand.
She looked up at me. "Guess I'll see ya around then, Jake."
I nodded at her. "See ya." Joey waved as they went out the door, and I waved back. When I stepped out of the library into the waning daylight, they were gone.