Authors: R.J. Ross
Sunny hands over one of the cupcakes. He's not saying anything and I wonder if he thinks I've gotten us both killed. I’m pretty sure I have.
Idly Max looks at the cupcake. "I can kill someone with this," he says idly, tossing it into the air. It floats there, as if it's a balloon. "You'd be surprised by what I can do with my powers. Even though I’m perfectly capable of doing things on my own I want a team. That's not all of it, though. There are fifty five of us--six or seven in this area that I know of. No one other than me is using their ability, no one other than me is trying to take over the business. We are the future--either side. Regardless of who our parents are, or whose side they're on, none of us are exactly human."
I want to argue. I even open my mouth, but nothing comes out. Maybe we aren't. Maybe we're... something else. I just wish I knew what that was. Super. Yeah, that was the term the heroes and villains get. But just because you could do something like we can, does it make you super? Superior?
I flinch away from that word. Those two years in the system have made the word "superior" a four lettered word for me. I don't want to start claiming it for myself just because some guy might or might not be our father.
"You two are new, I'm not even sure who your parents are, but the super world--it's not as black and white as they make it out to be on TV," Max goes on, making the cupcake dance in the air. "Sooner or later you meet everyone--regardless of what side you're on. They all know each other. They all know that somewhere in their past their grandparents or great grandparents were best friends, or possibly even cousins. Or enemies. Or all the above. We will never fit in with regular humans, guys, because the ones like us never do. We will never be like your pal, Jack--no matter how much he might want to act like one of us. So yeah, I want you two at my side. I need you. I'm pretty sure you need me, too. All we have is each other."
I move closer to Sunny. Who would have thought I'd be in this position?
"Tomorrow," Sunny says. I look at him in confusion, not realizing what he's saying for a moment or two. "Tomorrow we'll give you our decision. Let us sleep on it tonight."
"I wish I could believe you," Max said with a sigh. "I wish I could know that I'd wake up tomorrow, come out here, and you'd both be packed and ready to move into my place. But you're already packed now, aren't you."
"We--we didn't want to tell you this," Sunny says. I'm panicking here, I have the idea that he's going to kidnap us both and brainwash us into becoming his perfect little lackeys. "Max--it's a lie."
"What?" I ask before Max even can.
"We're not supers. We just sent that email to get attention--to try and get out of the house. Do you have any idea how much it sucks sharing a bathroom with six other people?" Sunny goes on, looking Max straight in the eyes. When did he get so good at lying? "We didn't realize how important this would be for you--I mean, we figured the Hall would just ignore us, or maybe come out and we'd get famous because they did, but--we're sorry."
"You're lying," Max says, but there's a hint of doubt in those chocolate brown eyes. He has beautiful eyes--STOP, Zoe, just STOP. He's looking at me now--I'm not sure I can bluff, besides, what if he brings out a cell phone or a computer or anything? The lie will be blown! I can't control it! Really, I would if I could! "Zoe, you wouldn't lie to me, would you?" he asks, moving closer.
Oh man, oh man, oh man, do you have any idea how awkward this is for me? I don't have boys doing this to me! I don't usually even have boys talking to me! Especially cute ones! Especially SUPER VILLAINS. "I--I'm sorry?" I say, taking a step back. "We just--we just want attention," I say, finding myself caught by those brown eyes.
"Mine?" he asks.
"Te--Tech--" I find myself whispering.
"Technically the Hall's," Sunny says, jerking me back.
"Tech... Techni..." Max has caught on. I look at Sunny, only to literally jump as Max bellows a surprised curse. "Technico! Holy crap I should have seen it! Why didn't you TELL me?" he demands. "That hair--that face--you look just like him! You're right, you're not supers--you're freakin' Superiors!"
"What?" I ask. Did he read my mind? Why is he calling me the very word I hate?
"Superiors," Max says, grabbing my hands. "I changed my mind," he says, looking me straight in the eye. "I'm going to hold you to that boyfriend comment. You and me, we'll make a great couple--" He's jerked back, tossed across the street and into a tree, much to my shock--and surprisingly, both his and Sunny's, as well. But Sunny's the first to recover. He's standing between me and the super teen, his hands in fists at his sides.
"I said we're not supers. And there's no way on Earth that I'm going to let a super villain date my twin sister."
I can hear creaking around us. The trees on the side of the road are starting to move slightly, responding to Sunny's temper. Max is standing up and dusting himself off. He doesn't look too bothered by Sunny's blowup by the way that he's grinning. "What a load of crap, man," he says. "I can't believe I almost fell for it for a second! Not supers. Like a norm could send me flying like that! But even with that, you get no say in who your sister dates, Sunny. She likes me. Don't you, Zoe?"
Now they're both looking at me. What do I do? I--I--I'm starting to get irritated, actually, now that I think about it. "I don't like you," I tell Max. "Sure, you're cute, but you're also insane. I can't believe you held an entire Super Bowl hostage! Are you crazy?"
"It made for a good halftime show!" he protests. "C'mon, Zoe, you'll like me if you get to know me, you know you will. And like you said, I'm cute, right?"
"No, I absolutely won't," I say. "Especially since you're talking like you're going to try and kidnap us to get us to work with you! How can I like a guy that doesn't even let me make my own choices? You're trying to manipulate us."
"Fine," Max says. "I'll let you decide--IF you guys don't go running off to the Hall like I'm betting you've been planning."
I look at Sunny.
"If you are the kids of Technico, do you really think they'll trust you?" Max adds. "You'll be considered villains before you even think about donning a cape. You should think about that when making your decision."
"So... you're coming back tomorrow?" Sunny asks.
"Maybe," Max says, grabbing the cupcake that has just been floating there, waiting for him. "Don't get your hopes up that I'm gone, though," he adds, taking a bite. "I'm not done with you two. Especially you, Zoe," he says to me. "You and me are going to get to know each other a lot better."
"In your dreams, Max," I reply. I can't believe I just said that. Just twenty minutes earlier I would have sworn he would kill me for a comment like that. Now a part of me isn't surprised when he gives me a devilish grin.
"There, too," he says.
"Man, that line was seriously lame," Sunny says. "Really lame."
"Hers or mine?" Max asks.
"Both." Somehow we're walking back to the home. What worries me, though, is that Max is leading the way. I was right. He does know where we live. As if to prove it, he stops right at the steps of the house, turning to look at us.
"I don't want to force you," he says. "But you'll understand soon enough. I'm your only chance."
"You're what, seventeen?" Sunny asks. "How are you going to be any help?"
"I can give you a home. A real home, not a place that's overflowing with kids with nowhere to go. I can give you purpose." He's looking at me again. Do I have something like "sucker" written across my forehead? Don't answer that. "We can be a family."
"Yeah? Well you can't date your sister, so stop staring at Zoe," Sunny says, moving to block him from looking at me. "Go home, Max. It's past lights out."
For a moment a dark look crosses Max's face and automatically I reach out to grab Sunny's arm. If he's going to be attacked, we both are. Then Max shrugs. "Fine. I have some stuff I need to do anyway. See you tomorrow, Sunny, Zoe," he adds, glancing at me--then taking to the air.
"Don't fly without your suit on, stupid!" I say. "Or at least a mask!" He lands.
"Yeah, yeah," he says. "Tomorrow." Then he's gone. It's like the world takes a breath with him not there, I know I do.
"What in the heck were you thinking?" Sunny demands, turning on me.
"Wh--what? What were YOU thinking?" I demand. "You threw him across the street!"
"Because you were just standing there like a moron! Don't tell me you like him! He's an insane super villain!"
"Yeah? Well so is our dad," I snarl before storming up the steps. I head straight for my room, not wanting to talk with Sunny anymore. What really makes me mad is that he's right. I am a moron. I mean, why did I feel so sick at the idea of Jack liking me--who's only done petty stuff--yet feel oddly happy when Max, who's a super villain, calls me cute?
I drop down on my bed, glower at the poster of Justin, and fall on my back to stare at the ceiling. "Superior," I whisper, wondering why he called us that. I don't like it, even if I'm the one saying it, but I can't help but think it’s more than just a word in this case. Man, now I wish I hadn’t ran off from Sunny. We have things to discuss!
Doesn’t change the fact that I’m mad at him, though. What right does he have to say who I can or can’t think is cute?
Er... yeah. Probably not going to sleep tonight, huh?
Morning comes. I’ve only been asleep for an hour or two, knocked out by exhaustion, and my alarm clock is going off. What do I do? I didn't plan on going to school today, not when I was planning on running away. I haven’t done my homework, but staying here is dangerous, too, right? I mean, Max knows where we live. Who’s to keep him from showing up? I kept wondering all through the night if he had even left. Who’s to say he didn't sit in some tree, just watching to make sure Sunny and I didn’t bolt for it?
My roommate is already up and gone--probably trying to get the hot water before it runs out. The Justin poster is staring at me. I can feel it even when I’m not looking at it. I really don’t see what she sees in the guy. I turn my back on it and dig out my clothes, getting dressed quickly. I have to stand in line for the bathroom, but it’s so common by this point that I wind up leaning against the wall, dozing as I wait for my turn. Bad mistake.
“Who is he?” Jack asks from behind me. I jerk awake, straightening quickly.
“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” I say snottily.
“Short kid, tan skin, black hair, got up in my face. Who is he?” he demands. We’re trying to whisper, to keep the others in the line from staring at us, but they’re looking anyway. I’m sure this is going to be the big story of the house within minutes. Jack and I never talk unless its a flat out bellowed fight.
“My boyfriend,” I lie. “You shouldn’t mess with him.” That’s the truth. I don’t like Jack one bit, but I don’t want him smashed like a pancake. Much.
“You made him out to be a stalker at dinner last night,” Jack snarls, “now you’re dating him? What the hell, Zoe? Are you a masochist or something? Who is he? He doesn’t go to our school!”
“How’s that any of your business?” I demand, turning on him. “I will tell you right now, do not mess with Max. Don’t go near him, don’t speak to him, don’t even look at him! Do. You. Understand?” I say, poking him in the chest. He is, shockingly, backing up, a look of shock on his face. It twists, turning to anger.
“Are you saying I can’t handle myself? You think that short little twerp can take me on?”
“I’m saying that short little twerp can smash you like a pancake,” I hiss. It’s not just anger that’s driving me, I realize. I’m actually scared. Why? Because Jack is a norm.
“I’m not some pushover, you know,” he says, stepping forward. We’re practically nose to nose, but I’m not about to back down.
“No, but you’re a norm,” I whisper harshly. The world seems to stop. You can hear a pin drop, even with this many people in the hallway.
The toilet flushes. Everything jerks back to normal, although it feels more awkward than usual. I take a step back. “Don’t... just don’t mess around with this, Jack. Please,” I say quietly.
“I don’t like this,” he mutters before turning and walking away. For a second I’m relieved. Then I realize that he’s running off without brushing his teeth. Ew. I step forward, heading into the restroom rather than thinking about it. I have enough things to focus on that don’t include Jack’s personal hygiene.
I get cleaned up, grab a pop-tart and a sack lunch from Marge, and head out on my own to the bus stop. My attention is diverted, my eyes searching the area around me, the sky, the trees. I just know that Max is watching from somewhere. I’m never going to be free of his attention--but that’s not nearly as worrying as the fact that I can’t find him. He’s nowhere to be seen. A hand drops on my shoulder and I jump a foot off the ground, twisting as I do to turn and confront Max--
It’s Sunny. “Hey,” he says. That one word is like a waterfall of relief and I fall forward, resting my forehead on his shoulder. “I heard you and Jack,” he says.
“What do we do?” I whisper.
“Relax,” he whispers back. “I’ve never seen anything about Max hurting norms. Even the grayhounds were empty.”
“They were? I thought they said they were full.”
“Yeah. They lied. It came out a week or two later, but nobody really cared by then.”
“But back then Max hadn't met Jack,” I mutter. “Even I want to hurt the guy.” I feel his shaking before I hear him laughing. I can’t help but pull away long enough to give him a dirty look.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he says. “But there’s no point in worrying about it. We’ve got bigger things to focus on, right?”
“When do we head for the Hall?”
“But--but what if Max is right?” I ask. “What if they look at us and see... you know who?”
“We’ve done nothing.”
“I know that, you know that, but will they?” The bus arrives and the door swings open, so I head in, heading for the first empty seat I can find. The bus is too crowded to talk more, so I just slide into my spot and wait for Sunny to drop down next to me. No one talks to us, not even the kids that live in the foster home with us. It's how it always is. I dig through my bag and pull out my homework, starting to work on the stuff I should have been doing when I was buying cupcakes with a super villain.
"I don't trust him not to do something," Sunny says.
"Who, Jack? Neither do I. He's going to get himself killed, and I'll be able to say 'I told you' to the splatter on the concrete," I say, jotting down another Spanish verb. "It might even get us on the front page."
"Not Jack," Sunny says. "Although you're probably right. Think we'd get the day off for his funeral?"
I stare at him for a second before a laugh escapes me. It's terrible, but it's funny. "I hope so," I say. "I seriously hope so."
Sunny snickers and I can literally feel him relax next to me, even though we're not touching. "Why aren't you doing your homework?" I ask him.
"I did it at school yesterday."
"You did--but we planned--you punk," I complain, shoving his shoulder. "Give it over."
"I'm going to copy it, so give it over!"
"So is what you did."
"Fine, whatever," he says, digging out his homework and handing it over. I jot down his homework, changing things here and there and wondering if this is the first step to being a super villain. It probably is, I decide. I'm going to wind up holding mass events ransom and blowing up all the computers and TVs in the world, or something. It's in the blood. I should resign myself to being a super--
Okay, now I'm just feeding myself a line of bull because a part of me still thinks Max is cute. See, if I just give in to being bad I can go along with him--
No. Seriously, I'm going to be a good girl. I promised myself I would. It's what Mom would want, and for the first few months I swore she would show up at any moment. I still have dreams where she just shows up, like she's never been gone, and she hugs me like she always does and tells me that she was caught in traffic.
Then I realize that no matter how big the traffic jam is, there's no way you can be stuck in it for this long. The dream usually turns into a nightmare about then, and I really don't want to think about it right now. So I turn my attention to something else. "Think he'll come to the park today?" I ask.
"Don't know. I think he's up to something," Sunny says.
"I was afraid you'd say that," I say. The bus pulls into the school parking lot and up to the curb. The door opens and we filter out with the other kids, bumping bags and shoulders. I try to be careful--most of the kids are carrying cell phones or smart phones, or something that'll explode if I run into it. The last thing I want to do is do that. Like I said, I swore to myself I'd be good.
Well, good enough.
Hey, wait, that's Max standing in front of the school, isn't it? I mean, sure he's wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and that's his back that's to me, but I am almost one hundred percent sure that it's him.
"What is he--" Sunny starts out, only to stop as Max turns to us again. So, is it just me or is his hearing really, really good? It doesn't look like he's surprised to see us, if that huge grin is any indicator.
"Oh no," I say. "No. No nononono, you are not thinking of coming to our school and--why are you at our school?" I ask.
"I'm transferring!" Max says. "I figure one school's as good as another, right?"
"You go to school?" Sunny asks.
"Not technically. Technically I've already got my G.E.D., but hey, one school's as good as no school, right?" he says, heading past Sunny and straight for me. "Hi," he says with a smile that should be declared a deadly weapon. Yes, that sounds cheesy. It's worse if you're the one that honestly believes its true, trust me on this.
"Max," I say, crossing my arms over my chest. This is panic time, okay? You take a super villain with gravity powers and stick him in a building pack full of teenagers with hormonal imbalances--or whatever it is you want to call puberty--and it's definitely going to end badly. Plus, we've all agreed that Max is not the most stable mentally, right? Not to mention, Jack goes to school here. He rides his bike, doesn't usually show up on time, and skips a lot of his classes, but he still goes to school here!
"Hey," Max says. "I'm starting to think you don't want me here, Zoe. That hurts!"
"I don't want you here!" I say. "You don't need to go to school! And what if someone figures out--that?" I demand.
"She's right. It's too risky," Sunny says. "You'll slip up sooner or later, then they'll call the H--the others, and you'll get--you know!"
"I'm not stupid," Max says, looking at Sunny. "I can keep it under wraps."
I'm picturing highschool football games with Max's idea of entertainment right about now. It's exactly like the Super Bowl--but in ugly yellow school bus flavors. I have got to talk him out of this! Yelling doesn't seem like it'll work... "Max?" I ask.
"Yeah?" he says, moving closer.
"I already have a possible dad in those cells," I say quietly. "And I'd rather not have a possible friend in them, as well."
"Possible?" he repeats. "I thought we already were friends."
"You don't trust me to behave myself?" he asks.
"I can behave myself just fine," he says, his expression turning serious and somehow dangerous. It's another sign of something going on in his mind that I'm not aware of. Another side of him. I really don't think that the cheerful personality is Max's usual mindset. He's playing us, I'm pretty sure. That scares me, too.
"Max--" I say again.
The door of the school opens and Mr. Stance steps out, looking as nerdy as ever. He's the science teacher, the one that makes the stupidest jokes you've ever heard and laughs at them. "Are you the new student? Max Jeffery?" he asks, heading for our group. "It looks like you're already acquainted with some of our students--"
"Just the twins," Max says, moving so he's standing between the two of us and draping an arm over our shoulders. "Me and them are good friends," he adds. I want to elbow him in the gut, especially when he just leaves his arms there, like it's perfectly acceptable. Even Mr. Stance looks a bit confused.
"With Zoe and Sunny?" he asks. "Well that--that's a pleasant surprise!" he says after a second of thought. Really, Mr. Stance, you sound like it's a shock that we have friends.
Okay, maybe it is.
"Well, if that's the case, Zoe, Sunny, can you two show him around after he speaks with the principal?" Mr. Stance asks.
"Um, yeah, we can do that," Sunny says.
"Then if you don't mind, I'll just borrow Mr. Jeffery for a moment," Mr. Stance says. "If you would, Mr. Jeffery?" he asks.
"Sure," Max says. "You two will behave while I'm gone, right?"
"It's not us that needs worrying about," Sunny mutters as Max follows the teacher into the building. I look at Sunny, he looks at me. I'm nervous.
"Why is he doing this?" I ask him quietly.
"Probably because we're here," Sunny says.
"Nico Masters, AKA Technico, please sit down." The voice is familiar.
"Mastermental? That you?" Nico asks as he walks into the darkened room, heading for the chair in the middle. There's a light hanging over it, rocking back and forth slowly. "I'm surprised. I didn't expect the head of the Hall to be interviewing me."
"You're a special case," Mastermental says. Known as Double M to his friends, he is one of the most dangerous supers around. No one knows that better than Nico. "So, what makes you think we'll let you out of the Cape Cells?"
"I've done my time," Nico says. "I've resolved to become a useful part of society."
"By getting out of it," Nico says, looking around. "How many of you are there? Or are you watching me from behind a screen somewhere?"
"That isn't what we've come here to discuss, Nico," Double M says. "How will getting out of society be a useful contribution?"
"Well it's pretty simple. I'm cutting down on crime," Nico says, "since I'm not working. I figured I'd find an island somewhere in the Pacific, settle down, hook up a satellite. It'll be nice. You'd be surprised how sick you get of walls when you're stuck inside all the time."