I reach the park. It’s been more than ten minutes. When I went back to the house, everyone was still sleeping. I wrote a note for Tristan and Brody letting them know I went to get food. This should give me some time. I considered not coming, but I really can’t risk that guy coming back.
He is sitting on a bench under a tree. A young mother pushes her son on the swings to my left. An old man with a cigar tucked between his lips walks a small, white dog at the other end of the park. Other than that, it’s empty.
I slide onto the bench. Not looking at him, I tuck my legs up under my chin. “Who follows someone who almost kills them?” I ask. My voice is low and careful. I’m not sure what I’m doing. “Someone who is obviously a criminal.”
“You have superpowers like in comic books.” His voice matches mine.
“What is it that you want from me? Money?” I look at him. His brown hair is shaggy and longer than it looked under the hat. Then again, I wasn’t really trying to get a good look at him the other night. I was trying to kill him.
“No, not at all.” He moves his lip ring back and forth with his upper lip.
“Then, what?” The clouds start to thin. Sunlight breaks through very small pockets. I wrap my arms around my legs.
“I’ve been searching for something of significance. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling it might be you.” His eyes hold no malice. The wind picks up my hair, swaying it gently around my head.
“That’s crazy.” I shake my head.
My words don’t land with him. “What isn’t crazy?” He shrugs. “Why did you let me live?”
His question hangs over me. I rest the side of my head on my knees, tucking my legs in tighter. My eyes stay on him. I’m so tired and not at all up to dealing with this. But it’s my mess. How do I clean it up?
“I wasn’t able to kill you.” I shook my head.
He raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“I heard you thinking. I felt your fear.” I shrug my shoulders. “I wasn’t able to work past that.”
“But you usually can?”
“No. That was the first time that happened.” I scope the area. Nothing much has changed. The old man and the dog are almost completely out of sight, and the mom and son are now by the sandbox.
“That was the first time you couldn’t kill someone?” His hand fidgets on his leg.
“No. It was the first time I heard anyone’s thoughts and felt his fears. Why aren’t you freaked out that I tried to kill you? And with powers no less. Why aren’t you surprised or put off?” This whole thing is off-putting.
“I’ve asked myself that, too. I haven’t thought of anything but you since the other night. Your eyes are beautiful.” He sighs at himself and looks away. “I thought you were gonna kill me. You didn’t. You seemed so uncomfortable with all of it. I saw you standing with the big guy. I saw the other guy actually move through the door. It was crazy. I couldn’t take my eyes away. It was like a comic book was unfolding right before my eyes. But then when you took hold of my throat, I felt so close to you. I guess that’s how I’d explain it. I really don’t know how to articulate this. I just needed to talk to you—to get to know you more. So, I guess I want to be friends?” He brings his eyes back to me.
He wants to be friends. Not only did I spare someone I shouldn’t have, but also now he’s enchanted with my superpowers. I bite my bottom lip, still holding my legs close. He saw so much. “We can’t be friends.”
“I figured you’d say that.” His eyes glance at the ground. “My name is Charlie.” He brings his eyes back to me. A smile sandwiches between his two very pronounced dimples. He’s cute.
“Charlie, I am a dangerous person. Just because I didn’t kill you the other night doesn’t mean we have a special connection. It means I was surprised by a change in my abilities.”
His mouth flattens to a straight line briefly. “I think it does mean we have a special connection.” He nods to himself. “Has it happened again? The different reaction?” His eyes are so focused me. I feel uneasy and free at the same time. There is kindness in Charlie I’ve never come across before. “What if this was meant to happen exactly as it did?” Charlie’s brow furrows. His head tilts to the side. “Do you ever watch the news?”
“Occasionally, in the early morning—never on purpose.” I shake my head at all of this. “Why?”
“Well, last night there was this whole piece about Captain Matter. It was fairly entertaining. I’ll admit that I’m disappointed he isn’t a legit hero for our fine city, but you also can’t blame the guy.” The breeze sweeps Charlie’s light brown hair to the side. Large maple leaves turn over to let the sky see their bellies.
“He’s the masked vigilante, right?” I crack my knuckles.
“Yeah. Although, it turns out he’s really just a guy with an ego and a thing for talking to the press.” Charlie’s eyes wander away again like he’s stealing a moment to gather his thoughts. It’s obvious I make him nervous, but I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable.
I ask, “What were you hoping he would be?”
“A real hero,” Charlie says. He leans back in his chair.
I roll my eyes. “Do you really think some person would step up and stop crime for the good of the people?” Well, maybe that thought shouldn’t be so crazy to me.
“I can hope. I’ve spent too much time reading comic books—like, countless hours. There’s one thing that’s in each universe. Even if at times it’s just a glimmer, it’s there.” His eyes widen with each word.
“What is it?” I look down at my dad’s silver ring on my thumb. I scooped it up the day after he was shot. I wanted to get it before my mom pawned it. The good old days.
“Hope. Because no matter what is happening—no matter how dire the situation seems—you know the hero will conquer it. I just think the real world could use that kind of hope.” That’s beautiful. Goodness is under-appreciated.
“Sorry Captain Matter couldn’t provide that for you.” What do I say to that? Who is this guy? “My crew is gonna expect me back. I can’t just sit on a park bench and talk to you for hours.” I stand.
His warm hand grabs my arm. His skin is soft. “Can you tell me your name?”
I shouldn’t add any more wood to the fire. I sure as hell don’t need to. His eyes are so honest, so deep . . . it’s disarming. He knows so much already. Him knowing my name won’t do any more damage.
“Ruby,” I say. My voice is barely above a whisper.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Charlie whispers back, smiling.
“You’re crazy. Listen, I don’t live in that house and really bad people are there a lot of the time. Please don’t go back there.”
“Okay.” He nods and stands.
“I’m going to go now, Charlie. Don’t follow me this time.” I can’t help but smile at him.
“Okay.” He looks disappointed, but there isn’t a thing I can do about that. I start walking away. Part of me wants to look back, but I won’t let myself. Curious . . .
“Wait!” he calls. I turn. Charlie runs up. He pulls his wallet out of his pocket, flips it open, and pulls out a small, white card. “Here.”
I take it cautiously. Charlie Parker, Owner of Over the Moon Comics. 10941 East Pine. 206-555-4306. “You’re giving me your business card?” I ask, feeling a smile form on my face.
“I won’t go back to the house. I’ll try really hard not to follow you. But if you need anything or change your mind about being friends, you know where to find me.” He smiles widely, making his lip ring wiggle.
I shake my head. “Thanks, I guess.” I tuck the card into my back pocket. I’ll throw it out later before someone finds it and asks questions. “Bye, Charlie.” I walk away quicker this time. What a big mess. I hope the snake girl has better sense and stays the hell away from me.
*An Excerpt From The Highly Capable