Chapter 2: Homecoming

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 239

“Read ‘em and weep, ladies.”

A collective groan swept over the sticky, beer-stained table. Huddled in the corner of Davenport’s lavish basement, filled with enough games to consider itself a mini arcade, was Rory and a handful of half-naked teenage boys. The second they arrived at the party, the air smelling like a strange mixture of weed, booze, and cotton candy, Layla dragged her down to the basement.

It was the perfect place to hide from Barry and his football goons but her real intention was confronting Dylan Garridan, a senior baseball player/member of the swim team and her summer fling.

Her plan was to purposely flirt with any guy in his line of sight, to make him regret ghosting her the past three weeks. One glimpse of his wavy sandy brown hair reduced her to a puddle of lovelorn despair. Instead of making him jealous, she was gazing at him longingly as Rory cleaned the pockets of several rich kids in a game of poker.

“There’s no way you’ve won five hands in a row,” said Jimmy Gardener, staring at her in disbelief. “You’re using some gizmo to help you cheat.”

“Enough whining about your bad luck.” She snapped her fingers. “Off with it.”

Grumbling, he removed his muscle tee, his eight pack proving why he was nicknamed ‘Jacked Jimmy’. The other boys did the same, removing shoes and other pieces of clothing. Rory was the sole person who remained fully clothed, the very opposite of what they imagined when allowing her to partake in their game.

“Is she gonna make those faces all night?” asked Liam, nodding at her googly-eyed best friend.

“At this point, her face might be frozen that way.” Layla swooned at the sound of Dylan’s laughter. “Another round to win back your allowance?”

“Some of us need money for gas, Rory. We can’t just teleport from our kitchens.”

“Still holding onto that rumor, Oshiro? If I built a teleporter, I would’ve used it to crush you twice as hard at last year’s science fair.”

Placing his cards face down on the table, he threw her a mocking glare. Their game had barely begun when a door slammed open, followed by heavy footsteps. She only caught a glimpse of Barry’s varsity jacket but his voice (“Where’s that smug brat?”) was loud enough to hear from space. Pressing a button on her watch, the screen, the elements replacing the numbers, flashed bright green.

An enraged Barry stumbled down the steps, nearly spilling beer from his red cup. Wiping his chin, he made a beeline straight for the poker table. A dozen pairs of eyes were staring at the chair that now looked empty.

“Where is she, Laurent?”

“Ow!” shouted Layla, shaken from her daze by him pinching her arm.

The high-pitched shriek caught Dylan’s attention. It was the first time he glanced in her direction since she and Rory tiptoed down to the basement. Layla sprung up from her chair, resembling an angry cat.

“I know she’s here. Bianca saw you two helping Lockwood with his equipment. Tell me where she is or—”

“I’d choose those next words carefully.” Dylan moved between them, rubbing his knuckles. “Or I’ll give you a black eye to match the other.”

“Sorry to disappoint you but Rory skipped your lame party,” said Layla, freshly manicured hands on her hips. “She said she’d rather drink hydrochloric acid. Why? Do you get off on rejection?”

Barry was about to retort, no doubt something rude, nasty, or both, but upon catching Dylan’s eye, he thought twice. He settled for flipping her off and left the basement, the festivities returning to normal in his absence. Rory pressed her watch again and seconds later, she materialized back into the chair.

“Nice one, Rory. Can I talk to you?”

“Yes!” replied Layla, speaking for her. She fumbled with Rory’s cards. “I mean, that’s cool. I’ll sit here and play—why are you all shirtless?”

Joining him in the bathroom, she waited for the inevitable. She was used to this routine, one where Dylan ignored Layla for awhile (a couple weeks at most) before begging for Rory’s help in rekindling their relationship. This time, however, was much different.

No ‘I’m an idiot’ speech, no requests to plan a surprise, romantic date.

He reached for her hand, making her fear that he somehow was now pining for her. Just as she inched back, suggesting that Layla was more his type, his fingertips phased through her palm.

Dylan revealed that he descended from an entire family of supers, traced back generations. Unlike the ones on the news, his family chose to hide their gifts, to maintain normalcy. Like his parents before him, his powers (phasing and invisibility) manifested on his seventeenth birthday. His powers were the reason for the constant push and pull of his relationship with Layla. At times, he believed he was in control but then, he worried about hurting her.

“If you want me to tell Layla for you, that’s a definite no.” She refused to be used as some messenger pigeon, a substitute for his cowardice. “Why would you even tell me?”

“I swear I’ll tell her when I’m ready,” he said, crossing his fingers over his heart. “I told you because…I want you to help me.”

“Uh isn’t that a better job for your parents? You know, people with loads of experience in the powers department.”

Dylan shook his head. “They don’t understand because their powers are easy to hide. I can’t go ten minutes without my hand phasing through a bat and getting stuck with my fingers through the wood. Last practice, my hands started to disappear when I was batting.”

“Again, you’re telling me this why?”

He had been mulling over the idea for weeks. Her close relationship with his on and off girlfriend made it more complicated but he finally gathered the courage just minutes ago. Calling her the smartest person in the city, he begged her to build him a gadget to control his abilities. He hated himself for ignoring Layla and wanted to give her the loving relationship she deserved.

“Put the money away,” she said, eyeing his wallet stuffed with twenty and fifty dollar bills. “We’re friends, dummy. I don’t know how I can help but I’ll try.”

Rory texted him an address, telling him to meet her there in an hour. “I’ll tell Rhys I’m not feeling well. He’d jump at the chance to ditch this party anyway. Make sure you’re not followed.”

After easily convincing Rhys to leave the party (no need to fake a headache), she sneaked out of her house and biked down to the docks. Dylan arrived minutes later, his silver Porsche sticking out like a sore thumb. She covered it with a black tarp (“Do you want to get caught?”) and led him over to an abandoned warehouse, the red paint peeling off the walls, half of the windows shattered, and a single swinging lamp providing light.

“Didn’t the Davenports shut this place down years ago because of that weird fire?” he asked, stepping over a dead rat. “People say it’s haunted. N—not that I believe in ghosts.”

“Well, how small-minded of you. You believe in supers but not the supernatural?” She stopped by a rusty elevator. “Only Layla knows about this place. It helps that I started the rumor in sixth grade.”

“You did? Why?”

“I do my best work in private. Plus, I don’t want anyone stealing my ideas. If Liam Oshiro found out about this place, he’d go nuts.”

Brushing away the cobwebs on the panel, she pressed the lower button and the doors creaked open. He hesitated to follow her inside, clearly thinking it was a steel death trap. Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the elevator and watched her press several buttons in a specific sequence. The elevator descended down the shaft, deep below the warehouse. Though it stopped seconds later, the doors remained shut.

She flipped open a smaller panel on the side and tapped another silver button. A small needle pricked her finger.

“Rory Reyes with Dylan Garridan as a guest. He’s cleared for entry, Aimee.”

“Affirmative,” replied a robotic female voice.

The doors slid apart, revealing a laboratory that would put the ones at Davenport Industries to shame. She considered the warehouse a perfect hiding place. No one would suspect a state of the art lab, filled from wall to wall with inventions and experiments, to be below a rundown, supposedly haunted building.

“Y—you built all this?” he asked, speechless. “How did you—when—”

“Sixth grade, when my ideas were getting too big for my garage.”

The memory of a squirrel nearly exploding flashed in her mind. She switched on the wall of computers.

“Before you ask, no one can get in but me. Anyone who tries has to pass a genetic scan and the sample needs to be identical to mine so unless zombies are real, my parents won’t be surprising us anytime soon.”

He looked at a small pile of gadgets on a metal table. “I knew you were a genius but...you’re sure you’re not a super?”

“Definitely sure. Stand over there,” she said, pointing to a transparent chamber. “I need a better idea of what’s going on at a deeper level. Aimee won’t bite.”

As he walked into the chamber, the inside glowed blue and a pair of thin beams traveled up and down his body. The process continued for several minutes, the data transferring to her main computer. At Aimee’s request, along with her reward of a chocolate chip cookie, he left the chamber.

“Your cells are fascinating,” she said, her eyes on the bright screen.

His mouth full, he blushed. “Most people compliment me on my pitching.”

Reminded of a human chameleon, a million ideas swirled around inside her head. A solution to his disappearing limbs appeared to her instantaneously. The current modifications to her watch did not render her completely invisible. She likened it to an invisibility cloak: one wrong move and someone with half a brain could detect her presence.

By adjusting it to work with Dylan’s abilities, he could use his invisibility at will, with the added bonus of essentially vanishing into thin air. A person could walk right through him, unaware that a teenage boy was in their path.

The more challenging dilemma was his phasing. From the information gathered in the chamber, Rory deduced that his cells were constantly shifting between a solid and gaseous state. Finding the solution would require additional research.

“It’ll take some time but you should be ready to take Layla to the homecoming dance.”

Two weeks had passed since Dylan’s visit. While most of her classmates were concerned with homecoming dates (going alone akin to social suicide in their feeble minds), Rory was busy devising ways to help the love of her best friend’s life. Each day closer to homecoming, Layla turned down more and more invitations, waiting for Dylan to sweep her off her feet. The ever growing line of boys made him that more anxious.

“What are your thoughts, Rory?”

Lowering her pencil, she glanced up from her paper covered in scribbles. She had been working tirelessly on a solution to Dylan’s problem, the answer within reach.

Lost in her own world, a common occurrence, she forgot that she was not toiling away in her lab, surviving on Red Bull and Doritos, but in the midst of AP English. She was one of the few not having some R-rated fantasy about Mr. Baccay.

The hip, handsome teacher with his dark square frames and affinity for sweater vests charmed the students and teachers alike. His shy nature, mixed with his tendency towards privacy, added to the mystery of the young man who arrived in Crescent Bay six years ago. Even his fellow teachers knew very little about him, her father unable to recall his address.

“Who better to give us insight than our resident genius?” he asked, holding up a copy of Frankenstein. “You seemed to be taking very detailed notes so I won’t have to repeat myself.”

Her eyes subtly shifted to the right, scanning Liam’s open notebook. Aside from some doodles and a decent drawing of Mr. Baccay, perfectly capturing his strong jawline, there were notes that extended halfway down the page.

“I disagree,” she said, her confidence masking her confusion. “I feel like that’s the lazy interpretation. If anything, the doctor is the real monster.”

“Care to elaborate?”

If bullshitting was a major, she would have earned it by age five, with top honors and a minor in puppy dog eyes. The teachers were never the wiser though she always suspected that Mr. Baccay had caught on but found it amusing. 

Several girls in the front row looked dejected when he praised her ‘intriguing analysis’. In their warped worldview, they were the only ones deserving of such a positive response, due to their eagerness to ask questions every class and their willingness to visit his office for tutoring.

To a stranger, it would suggest a desire to do their best. The truth? It meant private time with the dashing teacher, whose name was written all over the back of their notebooks.

Liam, sharing that sentiment, kicked her shin. “You made all of that up,” he hissed. “Baccay’s too nice to call you out.”

“You know, I’d try to get on a first name basis before the wedding. Where are you registered again?”

“Wow, so original,” he said, sarcastically. He peeked at her scribbles. “Are you a fashion designer now? Going to give someone else a chance to win at the science fair?”

Pouting, she flipped the page over. “Aw, I bet you’d love that but sadly, you’ll have to settle for second place once again. The one time you’ll ever be ahead of me is during roll call.”

At the sound of the bell, Mr. Baccay announced the homework assignment over the sea of students rushing through the door. Paisley Forbes and her lapdogs made their way to his desk for their after class conversation, typically involving endless, obsequious compliments about his lesson

“Ooh, Paisley’s stepping up her game,” she told Liam, the spray tanned blonde holding an actual book instead of a fashion magazine. “Did she finally learn to read? It’s a miracle.”

“Nah, her dad had them print a special copy with big pictures.”

Taking their time to gather their belongings, they listened to Paisley’s latest scheme. The book was a historical novel by one of his favorite authors.

“I’m glad you liked it, Paisley,” he said, smiling. “What was your favorite part?”

She resembled a deer in headlights. “Oh um how can I choose? It was all awesome. Reading it must make you feel like you’re back home.”

“He wasn’t born in the Philippines,” Rory pointed out, passing by his desk. “That’s a little close-minded of you, Paisley. It’s like someone asking you what it was like to work for Willy Wonka.”

Liam’s snort earned him a nasty glare from her minions. Paisley, more likely to wear pinstripes than to be her friend, replied with a fake laugh, her pink nails digging into the cover.

“An easy mistake,” said Mr. Baccay, defusing the tension. “It’s a gorgeous day outside. You don’t want to be cooped up here. Rory, could I have a word? It’s about your essay.”

Liam had to physically push the three girls out the door, though he was curious himself. Mr. Baccay proceeded to stare at her in complete silence, as if he was peering into her soul.

“Your essay’s fine. Perfect work as always…but I wanted to talk.” He leaned against his desk. “You’ve seemed distracted lately. Is everything alright? Any problems with Barry?”

“No, he’s kept his distance.”

It was not a complete lie. Ever since the locker incident, he had refrained from any inappropriate contact. Rory’s mother hoped that the detention would convince him to cut his losses but the world was based in reality, not her shining optimism. Barry persisted with his flirting from afar, returning to the days of lewd comments that were not deemed harassment by school policy.

“I’m working on something for the science fair,” she explained, telling another half truth. “I try to top myself from the year before.”

“Well, I look forward to it. If you ever do need someone to talk to, my door’s open,” he offered.

She slung her backpack over her shoulder. “Good to know. Same for you, by the way…in case Paisley starts stalking you. My mom makes a killer mac and cheese.”

Rory barely flinched at Liam waiting by the door. Using a comic book as a cover, he attempted to eavesdrop but she doubted he heard much of the short conversation. He kept up the ruse, flipping to the next page.

“Why were you talking about mac and cheese?” he asked, feigning disinterest.

“He was planning the menu for our wedding.” Maintaining a straight face, she walked towards her locker, waving at passing friends. “You know it’s my favorite and it’s a little unconventional but hey, when you love someone, you do anything to make them happy.”

He avoided bumping into a gorilla-like senior on the wrestling team. “I know it’s like asking a fish to walk on land but for once, can you be serious?”

“Fine,” she relented. “He asked if Davenport was bothering me again and we talked about the science fair and you…”

“M—me?” His amber brown eyes lit up with eagerness. “What did he say?”

“Guess he saw you tutoring Mia at the coffee shop the other day. He thought you two were together but I told him that was crazy.” She raised her pinky. “Mia hates carrots.”

Rory burst into a fit of giggles as he smacked her shoulder repeatedly with the comic book. If there was one thing she loved more than her inventions, it was teasing Liam. She seized the opportunity, no matter how small. He would initially hold a grudge but by the end of the next class, he was back to cracking jokes and their friendly rivalry.

“You know you love me, Li,” she said, opening her locker. “No offense but sometimes, you’re as obvious as Paisley. It’s not a big secret.”

“What’s not?”

She fumbled with her notebook, causing her to drop it. Elena, her hair tied back in a sleek high ponytail, bent down to the floor and handed it to her. She noticed a bruise on the inside of her wrist, one of many from cheerleading practice.

“Hey Elena,” muttered Liam.

Settling for the silent treatment, his goodbye to Rory was what he dubbed ‘the double flippy bird special’. He disappeared into the growing crowd heading for the doors. Holding back a smile, she turned towards Elena, who was absentmindedly curling the end of her ponytail around her finger.

“What were you two talking about? What’s not a secret?” she asked, rambling. “You don’t have to tell me. That’s rude to ask, isn’t it?”

“His crush on Baccay.” Rory raised her brow at what sounded like a sigh of relief. “Are you okay?”

Her smile did not quite reach her sparkling eyes. “Yeah. A little tired from all the dance planning but otherwise, never better. Speaking of the dance, did you finish working on that thing I asked yesterday? I know it’s last minute with the dance like two days away so if you can’t—”

“Nope, already done. I’ve got a spare key from that new janitor. He’s a big trekkie so we’ve bonded pretty quickly. I snuck in last night to add some finishing touches I couldn’t do at lunch. Wanna see?”

Bianca Coyne was many things: head cheerleader, queen bee, pious daddy’s girl, to name a few. As chair of the dance committee for the past three years, she insisted on perfection in every aspect, from the decorations to the refreshments. It was this painstaking attention to detail that had her arrange the entire school to avoid the gymnasium the week of the dance.

Gym classes were moved outside or changed to study hall, depending on the weather, and any sports practices usually held in that space were subsequently done elsewhere. If anyone else made the request, people would laugh in their face but no one dared to say no to Bianca. Whether it was because of her popularity or her family’s immense wealth (probably the latter), they all gave into her strict demands.

For this year’s homecoming dance (theme: outer space), Elena was in charge of decorations. She wanted the dance to be better than the rest, considering it was her senior year. The problem was that most of the dance committee had quit after the first meeting, fed up with doing all of the work but Bianca taking the credit. It was much more difficult to decorate the spacious gymnasium with only six people, Elena included.

“Lie down.” The statuesque cheerleader looked at her strangely. “Trust me.”

She smoothed out her skirt before lying on the hardwood floor. Rory turned her phone on its side, moving her fingers across the screen.

“Dance protocol, Aimee.”

The lights turned off simultaneously, plunging the room into total darkness. Seconds later, the ceiling was illuminated by a realistic projection of the night sky. Elena gazed up in awe as the scenery repeatedly changed, reflecting different parts of the solar system.

“Will her highness approve?” Rory asked, joining her on the floor.

“If she doesn’t, she’s blind. This is amazing!” she exclaimed, stunned. “How did you—it looks so real.”

“Check this out. Pick something up there…”

Elena pointed at Jupiter, directly above her head. Rory made a pinching motion with her fingers then pushed her hand out towards the closest wall. That same image appeared, as if she had literally plucked the planet from the sky. Encouraging her to try it herself, she watched Elena hesitantly mimic her, covering the wall with a series of stars. The holograms vanished with a snap of Rory’s fingers.

“You’ve got a skeleton crew these days so I figured it would help out,” she said, both girls rising from the floor. “You could use it for pictures too. Aimee’s hooked up to the system so if you want to display a different image, just tell her and—”

Her brain suddenly turned to mush. Elena hugged her tiny body, rendering her speechless. Her mind was racing at a mile a minute but instead of saying actual words, all she could do was breathe in the coconut scent of her best friend’s sister’s hair. With their considerable height difference, she found herself in a position that most boys would envy.

“Seriously, Rory, you are my life saver. This dance would be a disaster if it wasn’t for you. I owe you a huge favor. Name it and I’ll do it.”

Rory knew what she wanted, the words on the tip of her tongue. All she had to do was say them but her fear eroded any confidence she built up in those five minutes together.

“Pfft, please. What are friends for?”

Damn it.

Just when she thought she was taking a giant leap forward, she took a thousand steps back. She mentally cursed herself for chickening out. On the other hand, what else did she expect when she had done so since the sixth grade?

“Speaking of friends, are you going with Liam to the dance?” Elena asked, curiously. “I know when you’re both single, you usually do that buddy date thing.”

“Actually, he’s going with Marcus. I mean, in his head, he’ll be dancing with a certain teacher…” she replied, knowing that Marcus, a star point guard with a charming smile and a six pack, was a second choice. 
“They’d be so cute together. What about you? I’m sure you’ve gotten plenty of offers.”

That was an understatement. “A couple but I think I’m going solo. It would be a shame to share all of my awesomeness with one person all night so I’m open to anyone that isn’t named Barrington Davenport. What about you? Are you going with Jimmy?”

“No, I think we’re better off as friends. Looks like we’ll both be free,” she said, smiling. “If we get tired of losers trying to get handsy during a slow dance, we can keep each other company.”

Leaning against her locker, Dylan looked like a junkie in the early stages of withdrawal. He wrung his hands nervously, asking if she was any closer to solving his problem. The source of his anxiety was Shane O’Connell, one of Barry’s lackeys, asking Layla to the dance after art class. She seemed to be considering the offer, fed up with Dylan’s wishy washy behavior.

Rory doubted that she would willingly accept a date from the running back, who was more slobbering mutt than teenage boy.

“You didn’t see her face,” he countered. “Maybe she thinks it’ll make me jealous if she goes with someone else and it’s working. I want her to go with me.”

“Dylan—”

“He knew how angry it was making me.” The fingers clasped around his backpack strap faded. “If she wasn’t standing right there, I would’ve punched him.”

“Let’s go to my lab,” she suggested. “I’ll tell Rhys that I’m tutoring you at your place. The prototype is ready but I wanted to run some tests first. Deep breaths, okay? People knowing you have powers would overshadow the dance and then Bianca might literally kill you.”

Later that night, her eardrum was almost shattered by Layla’s excited screams over the phone. She gushed over Dylan’s romantic proposal, including a bouquet of roses, a giant bag of skittles, and their song playing on her lawn. Emboldened by Rory’s tech, he asked her to be his official girlfriend, no longer a fling. Her happiness was cut short by Elena, who silenced her with a pillow to the face in hopes she could study for her AP Physics test in peace.

Rory had never seen her best friend this happy, except when they witnessed Crimson Titan chasing a criminal by the coffee shop and she claimed that the muscular hero winked at her.

“One more, sweetheart.” Her mother snapped another picture. “I’ll keep going until you smile.”

Standing by the staircase, she plastered on a smile to satisfy her mother’s need to photograph all occasions, whether it was a school dance or a trip to the park. Rory suffered through a dozen more before she finally lowered the camera.

“You look so beautiful,” she said, admiring her short burgundy dress. “It brings out your eyes.”

Leaving the kitchen, her father, wearing an apron, agreed. “I have an even better addition.”

He placed his black wool coat around her shoulders. This was his go-to tactic for dances and any other event involving dresses. No matter how much skin showed, he preferred for her to be completely covered, refusing to accept her as a girl.

Her mother rolled her eyes. “Declan, we’ve been through this. It’s how girls dress these days. There’s nothing wrong with the dress.”

“It’s not the dress I have a problem with…it’s who is looking at the dress,” he said, letting out a small whimper as Rory tossed the coat over the banister.

Rhys walked down the staircase, two steps at a time. “Dad, you’re overreacting. Dress or not, they’ll still try to cop a feel. Lucky for you, she’s got the gun show protecting her.”

As her older brother flexed his biceps, her father pinched the bridge of his nose. It was moments like these that made Rory wonder how any girl would want to date him. At the sound of the doorbell, her mother patted her father’s hand lovingly and opened the front door. Layla, wearing the smile that had not been wiped off her face since the proposal, and Dylan were waiting outside. His navy blue tie matched her strapless lace dress, making them look like the definition of a picture perfect couple.

“Thanks, girl,” Rhys replied, when she complimented Rory. “You look totes adorbs too. Cool bracelet, man.”

A black bead bracelet was sticking out under Dylan’s sleeve. Much more than a simple bracelet, it was what kept him from phasing through his chair in the middle of class. Rory purposely designed it to be inconspicuous.

“Oh uh thanks. My grandparents are in Hawaii and sent it over. Rory said they’re made from lava stones or something.” Layla nudged his side. “Speaking of, I uh wanted to thank her for all of her help. She’s the reason we’re together so I uh…here.”

He handed her a keycard bearing the symbol for his family’s company, Garridan Global. It was one of the leading technology companies in the world, a rival to Davenport Industries. Each year, the school held a job fair for the juniors and seniors, giving them ideas for their future careers. Some companies even offered internships.

Garridan Industries was the most selective, only taking one student in the past ten years. Rory had been waiting for the job fair since she was a little girl, hoping for the chance to get a coveted internship and expand her talents.

“Thanks?” she asked, trying her best to sound grateful rather than confused.

“Tell her what it is, silly,” Layla told him, her smile widening.

“It’s to get into the building.” Her eyes tore away from the embossed globe on the keycard. “My dad always loves your stuff at competitions but it’s not like he could employ a ten-year-old. He wants you to intern at the company. I thought it’d be better than working out of a—”

Despite her size, she nearly knocked him into the wall. Layla, jumping up and down in excitement, joined in on the hug. Dylan gently squeezing her back showed his own appreciation. She did not even mind her mother taking another picture to commemorate the moment.

“He knows school’s important so it’s just on the weekends…if your parents are okay with that.”

“That’s incredible, kiddo,” her father said, ruffling her hair. “You must’ve done something pretty great for Dylan to pull those strings. A big upgrade from the garage.”

Not wanting the card to get lost at the dance, he promised to put it in her room for safekeeping. The high from her new internship lasted all the way to the school, slightly dampened by Rhys’s makeout session with Alicia on her porch (“You have plenty of time to do that in the back seat!”) and their blatant flirting, including her nibbling on his earlobe. Rory was forced to witness it all, in disgust, from the backseat, with Layla sitting on Dylan’s lap, both equally disturbed.

It took less than five seconds for the two seniors to wander into an empty classroom. Rory was too excited about working at Garridan Global to steer her brother away from the poor life choice of being intimate with Alicia Danbury. The rampant rumor was that he invited her as his date in a form of payback against Barry, who intended to bring Alicia to make Bianca jealous.

While Layla headed over to DJ to request better music, Dylan handed Rory a cup of fruit punch. “I know that face by now. Don’t go feeling guilty. You deserve it for helping me and because you’re the smartest person at this school.”

“Have you told her yet?” she asked, watching her outspoken best friend argue with a man in his mid thirties. “I’m guessing not because if you did, she’d never be able to keep it a secret…at least from me.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m figuring out how to mention it. At least I have the option to do that instead of her finding out while we’re kissing and my hand passes through her cheek.”

“Finally, something we can actually dance to…not that old people stuff,” said Layla, taking the other cup from Dylan. “What did I miss?”

“I was saying how awesome these decorations are, thanks to Rory,” he said, effortlessly changing the subject. “My dad might try to adopt you himself when he sees what you can do.”

As she enjoyed herself, dancing with several people throughout the night, she kept an eye out for Elena. She was noticeably absent from the dance that she had spent months planning, the praise from teachers and students being lapped up by an unworthy Bianca. While getting more punch, Layla mentioned that her older sister was making quick stop at the grocery store for extra ice and the ATM for the DJ, who preferred payments in cash.

“Picture time. Come on.” Layla looped her arm through hers. “Come on, Rory.”

Marcus pulled a bashful Liam towards the photo booth with the same insistence. Katrina, head of both the school newspaper and yearbook, was manning it by herself. Her shyness, coupled with her big chocolate brown eyes, reminded Rory of a doe.

Moving to Crescent Bay in sixth grade, it took nearly three months for her to open up to anyone, Rory getting that lucky honor. After all this time, she did not know much, except that her parents were extremely overprotective, preferring to homeschool her until she begged to be around kids her own age, and she was a talented photographer and writer.

“So, you get a bite of that chocolate yet?” she whispered to Liam, as Marcus and Dylan did their special jock handshake.

He responded with a kick to her shin. Marcus draped his arm around his shoulders. Layla and Dylan were moving their hands in every direction, creating a background for the picture.

“Are you trying to steal my date, Rory?” he teased. “Regretting this summer?”

“Nope, he is all yours but fair warning, he’s our innocent little lamb,” she said, poking Liam’s nose. “Be gentle.”

He pecked his cheek. “I don’t bite, unless he wants me to. Did you have this much trouble getting him to dance?”

“Why would you want to torture all of us?”

“Are you both done making fun of me?” asked Liam, not amused by his date joining in on her teasing.

“Aw, sorry, Li. No more, I promise,” Marcus agreed, crossing his fingers. “But you are cute when you blush like that.”

As they moved together for the picture, Rory urged Katrina to join the group. It seemed unfair for her to take pictures of everyone else but have none of herself. She called over one of Bianca’s little angels, freshman vying for a cheerleading spot and were given the opportunity to bolster their standing by volunteering at dances and other school events.

Tucking her hair behind her ears, Katrina joined the small group, standing beside Rory. They took several pictures, some serious and some with funny faces.

“Kat, come dance with us,” said Layla. “You can’t spend all night in this little corner.”

“Oh, it’s okay. Someone needs to be here for pictures and the camera is—”

Rory grabbed her hand. “It’s a camera, not a nuclear reactor.” She turned towards the freshman girl, who was eyeing the football players by the refreshments. “Hey, I didn’t get your name.”

“Cindi with an I.”

Her bubbly voice made her perfect cheerleader material. “Well, I’m Rory with a y. I was like talking to Bianca and she said whoever did the most volunteering would totally get extra points. Could you like stay at the booth for awhile?”

Hearing Bianca’s alone was enough to convince her. In her dreamy haze, imagining herself as a cheerleader, she did not hear Layla giggling into Dylan’s shoulder or Marcus’s snort of laughter.

“See? Problem solved,” she told a skeptical Katrina, bringing her onto the dance floor.

After a few songs, she began to loosen up, forgetting about her worries. Rory suddenly felt hands on her hips. The heavy scent of cologne and Katrina’s wide eyes tipped her off to the identity of her surprise partner.

“You really have a death wish, huh, Davenport?” She faced the smug senior, wanting nothing more than to give him another broken nose. “Didn’t you learn your lesson?”

Her friends looked ready to fight, Liam and Marcus rolling up their sleeves and Layla holding one of her heels like a deadly weapon. Katrina eyed the teachers lined up against the wall and Dylan’s fingers were hovering over his modified watch. One pointed look from her stopped them from beating him senseless and risking a detention or the wrath of his mother.

“I know you were at my party,” he whispered in her ear. “You say you’re not into me but I think you’re just scared of upsetting your big brother. He won’t find out.”

“You got me,” she said, twisting his tie around her fingers. “To be honest, I thought you were over me when I heard you wanted to take Alicia. There’s something I’ve wanted to do all night.”

As she leaned closer, she kneed him in the groin and pushed him to the floor. He rolled onto his side, groaning.

“Thanks so much, Barry,” she said, cheerfully. “Now the dance is the best night of my life. I’ll cherish this memory forever.”

Marcus stopped him from stepping towards her. “I know it’s hard for you but don’t be stupid, man. Go find some other girl to bother.”

“Why don’t you go back to your little geek over there?” He jerked his thumb at Liam. “Tell the truth. Did he blackmail you into being his date? Why else would you go with a loser like him?”

He stumbled forward as Marcus roughly grabbed his shirt. “Marcus, d—”

Liam’s plea was interrupted by a loud bang, followed by the floor shaking beneath their feet. The lights briefly flickered and the music stopped, the DJ struggling to restart his equipment. All around her, kids complained about their phones randomly turning off, some of them taking video of the impending fight between two jocks.

“Must’ve been an emp,” said Liam, pulling Marcus back towards him. “We’d be walking around in the dark if it wasn’t for Rory’s adjustments.”

Getting on the stage, Principal Steele gave the usual spiel. Remain calm, stick together, and do not leave the gymnasium until the police handled the situation. The chief of police informed her that multiple explosions occurred around the city, knocking out the power. Rhys pushed through the chattering crowd, his neck coated in hickeys.

“Rory, are you okay? The lights were out everywhere but—” His eyes narrowed at Barry, who returned it with just as much scorn. “What’s he doing near you?”

“Ignore him. Unless he wants my built-in laser to chop off his you know what, he’ll be good.” Barry glanced up at the ceiling, as if expecting to see a red dot. “This isn’t the time to be arguing with each other.”

Through Aimee, she opened a map of the city on her phone, with all known sites of the explosion, including a local bank, the mayor’s office (Liam swallowed hard, worried for his father), a playground a mile away from the school, and the docks. Layla gripped her arm, terrified.

“That’s where Ellie was. What if she—do you think she’s hurt?” Not waiting for an answer, she tried calling her. “She’s not picking up.”

“I’m sure she’s fine,” assured Dylan. “You said she was on her way to the school a couple minutes ago. She could be stuck in traffic or the police are getting everyone somewhere safe.”

Rory stared at the area indicating the docks. Minutes later, Elena returned her call, hiding in a nearby pizzeria.

“We’re all okay. No, the lights are still on in the gym,” sniffled Layla, leaning against Dylan. “What about mom and dad? Good. Did you see what caused it? Was it a super?”

“Whoa, where are you going?” asked Rhys, as Rory headed for the door. “You heard Steele. We’re supposed to stay in here and that includes you.”

“I want to check on mom and dad. You know she’s afraid of the dark. It’ll be easier to hack into the security camera through a computer. I’ll be right back.”

“Why would you say that? Rule number three.” The others looked at him, puzzled. “It’s from Scream. Does no one else watch horror movies?”

“This is reality, scaredy cat. Calm down.”

Rory sneaked past the frantic students, some concerned about their families while others lamented that Principal Steele would skip the announcement for homecoming king and queen.

“How’s the lab looking, Aimee? Any damage?”

“No, but I am detecting a strange energy signature,” she heard through her phone. “It seems whatever caused the explosion originated near there. Attempted break in?”

Her eyes scanned the parking lot, resting on a familiar black Corvette. Placing a blue chip on the hood, she opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat.

“It’s possible,” she said, switching on the engine. “I’m on my way. Go into defense mode until I give the override code.”

Luckily, the police were concerned with stopping a possible supervillain, not a teenage girl with a stolen car and a learner’s permit. She spotted a couple blurs in the sky, indicating that supers were assisting them.

Arriving at the docks, she felt uneasy, her gut telling her to be on her guard. There was a slight chill in the air. Despite her disgust, she put on his varsity jacket in the backseat and covered her face with the hood, thinking the intruders would be more scared of a jock than a teenage girl.

Feeling her hair stand up on the back of her neck, she spun on her heel, pressing her watch. A force field formed in front of her, deflecting a lightning bolt.

Volt, no longer wearing everyday clothes but a navy blue suit that accentuated her slender figure, jumped down from a shipping crate. Her matching mask covered her eyes, with darkness doing the rest.

“Hands up.” She sounded like a malfunctioning robot. “Don’t move.”

Rory raised her hands above her head. “I think you’ve got problems with your voice scrambler…or do you think sounding less human makes you scarier?”

Another figure, much taller and muscular, landed beside her. There was no mistaking that red spandex, the flowing cape, or the CT insignia, over a depiction of Saturn, emblazoned on their chest. Rory was face to face with Crimson Titan himself. In this moment, her best friend would be dancing with joy but Rory felt too intimidated to move a single muscle.

This was not the famed hero who graced magazine covers and gave inspirational speeches. It was the powerful man who defeated criminals and judging by his stern expression, he believed her to be one of them.

“This isn’t a time for jokes.” His booming voice sending a chill down her spine. “The origin of the explosions was traced to this location and here you are. My partner and I would like to ask you some questions.”

“Don’t,” she warned, as he stepped closer. “Stay there.”

“Is that a threat?” Sparks bounced off his partner’s fingertips. “That would be unwise.”

“No. I’m saving your ass.” She pointed at the warehouse. “This place has better security than the Pentagon. My AI is trained in all defenses and its main objective is to protect me, from human or super. She scanned you once you were within a mile of this place and she’s locked and loaded. I need to give her the override.”

Rory lowered her hood and raised her hands again. Volt’s own hands immediately fell to her side. Neither she nor her superior moved or spoke, Crimson Titan frowning slightly.

“You’re—” He cleared his throat. “You’re a child.”

“Uh sixteen so almost an adult and clearly not a criminal mastermind. You’re not freezing me from the waist down so I’ll take that as a good sign. Aimee, override code 0714.” A green dot faded from the top window. “It’s off. Those explosions weren’t from me.”

“We need to be certain of that,” he said, firmly. “You can tell us everything at headquarters.”

“Or you realize that there is no way that I am involved in this and let me go back to my brother and friends.”

Turning towards the car, she heard a soft crackle. One of the street lamps flickered and Volt stood in her way, looking conflicted.

“Cool trick but—”

“It’s best if you cooperate.” Even through the scrambler, she could hear her concern. “We don’t want to hurt you. We just want to find out who did this and maybe you know something that can help. You can trust us.”

Taking a calmer approach, she placed her hand on Rory’s shoulder. There was a bruise on the inside of her wrist, faint but unmistakable. Looking into the heroine’s kind eyes, her heart hammered against her chest.

“Elena?”

 


Submitted: August 06, 2018

© Copyright 2022 skv. All rights reserved.

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