SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS: CHAPTER TWO

10/09/2014 01:00:00 PM Lexie Dunne 8 Comments

“What kind of douchebag dumps somebody in the hospital?” Portia McPeak licked foam off of her thumb, ignoring the napkin right next to her. “More importantly, what kind of girl just lets him?”

“It wasn’t like that,” I said, though I couldn’t exactly work up much enthusiasm to defend either one of us, not when I had the latest text from my landlord on my phone screen. Jeremy had dropped off a box of stuff with him since I was at work.

It was really over.

“Then what was it like?” Portia asked.

“The job in Miami pays better, and he hates his job here.”

“Hey, I’m on your side—he dumped you in the hospital, and that makes him a douchebag.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I mean, so what if he’s a tool, and we all think you should have dumped him years ago?”

“I take that back.” I lifted my head to glare at Portia.

Five days had passed since Jeremy had walked out on me. I’d gone back to work, sore, limping, but otherwise alive, to find that my coworkers had oh-so-thoughtfully saved all my work for me. So it wasn’t like I had time to miss Jeremy at all. It just stung that I’d been dumped so callously.

Since Angus was out of the office on a business trip, I’d tried to sneak away for coffee at the Daily Grind to gain back a moment of sanity. Unfortunately, Portia had decided to tag along.

“I mean, I get why you didn’t kick him to the curb.” Portia, with her too-expensive bag and her designer shoes, didn’t fit in with the hipster crowd at the Daily Grind. But she didn’t seem to care. “He’s hot. And what girl doesn’t want a hot boyfriend? But, hey, now that he’s out of the picture, I think I might be able to set you up with someone.”

“No way.” I picked up a sugar packet and flicked it at her, and she sniffed. “No blind dates. Ever. I’m just going to sulk and be single for a while.”

“Then who’ll bring you clothes at the hospital?” Portia asked. “And before you can say me, I’m not going into a hospital unless I’m dying. So forget about it, Girl.”

“I’ll figure out a way,” I said. “Besides, maybe I’ll stop ending up in the hospital if Jeremy lets enough people know he’s in Miami. You know all the villains think he’s Blaze.”

“Because he is,” Portia said, rolling her eyes as though it was obviously my gamer ex-boyfriend pulling on a superhero suit to save the city on a daily basis. “Duh.”

“So with him in Miami, I’ll get a break from the kidnappings. Stranger things have happened, right?”

“To you?” Portia considered. “Not really. Remember that time Venus von Trapp turned you green?”

“Thank you for that depressing reminder of the worst two weeks of my life. I got a paper cut this morning. Would you do the honors?” I handed her the saltshaker.

Portia blinked at the saltshaker. “Huh?”

“Never mind.” I rested my head on my arms. Portia was probably the friendliest worker out of everyone in the office, and some days I wished I’d never drawn her attention, so I could drink my coffee in peace. She’d been standing next to me during one of Blaze’s epic fights with Dr. Death and had subsequently ended up on the front page of the Domino. She’d been lucky: people who spent time around me had an equal chance of winding up on the front page or in the hospital. But Portia was too fame-hungry to care about that.

“I’m going back,” Portia said, and I looked up. “Walk with me?”

Yes, because who knew what could happen to a long-legged blonde in three blocks? In broad daylight? I refrained from pointing out she was safer without me, cleared my coffee cup off the table and into the trash, and followed her out though I had absolutely no desire to go back to work.

I’d been working at Mirror Reality for a couple of years, and while I knew I was lucky to even have a job, it wasn’t a picnic. The work itself wasn’t bad, but the office was stuffed with idiots. Portia could probably be considered the smartest of all of them. My boss regularly hired men and women hoping to break into print modeling by constantly putting themselves in Angus’s line of sight. He found them amusing, but he knew better than to actually expect quality work out of these people, which meant I had to pick up the slack.

I hated my job. Every morning, I turned off the alarm clock and rolled over to stare at the window of my fourth-story apartment. And for ten minutes, I contemplated rolling out of bed and out of that window, and not having to go to work. I even set my alarm clock back ten minutes just so that I would have time for my daily existential crisis.

Once I decided that I had too much to live for, I dragged myself out of bed and headed into the office, two hours before anybody else came in. I used the quiet to prep meeting materials, research stories, and even occasionally ghostwrite a few articles if the regular writer didn’t live up to Angus’s standards. My coworkers trickled in between nine and ten. They left right on the nose at five. You could set your watch by that, at least. If I was having an efficient day, I’d be out of there at seven. The earliest I’d managed in a couple of years was nine.

Why did I stay there? That’s easy. The healthcare plan.

Angus paid for the gold plan for his employees, probably to keep the idea men and the overworked happy. Even if I tried to find another job at this point, the insurance company would have taken one look at my record and burst out laughing.

I don’t ask to get kidnapped. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I’d prefer if the villains focused on something else. One of them—I think it might have been a mind reader—got it into his head that Jeremy is Blaze, savior of Chicago. And even though I’d been insisting for over eighteen months that there was no way my boyfriend was Blaze, everybody insisted right back. So, people asked, why were Jeremy and Blaze never been seen in the same place? Because Jeremy was usually at his computer, playing games. How come Blaze came to save me every time? He must be a nice guy, but I assure you, he’s not Jeremy.

So I stayed for the health care. And I think Angus knew it. He was the first to start calling me Girl instead of Gail after the media named me Hostage Girl. Others followed suit, no matter how many times I insisted that it was Gail. Gail from Nowhere, Indiana.

When Portia and I strolled back into the seventh-floor offices of Mirror Reality, the receptionist was already mid-fit. “There you are!” she said.

“It was just a coffee run. Don’t worry so much, Adrianna.” Portia barely glanced up from her phone as we walked through. Angus insisted that the front office be kept spartan and minimal, so there was only the coatrack, two chairs, and Adrianna’s desk. Which was mostly empty anyway, usually of Adrianna herself. “What can I do for you?”

“Not you.” Adrianna waved her away. With an affronted look, Portia stalked off, and Adrianna turned toward me. “Angus has been calling for the past half hour. Why did you pick today of all days to leave?”

I refrained from pointing out that I was legally allowed to take breaks. “What does he want?”

“He’s got a meeting with Edward,” Adrianna said, grabbing my arm.

I raised my eyebrows. “Gonna need more than that. Who’s Edward?”

Davenport. Edward Davenport!” Adrianna practically melted back into herself before she remembered that I didn’t care. “He wants the entire office prepped, and with Guy leaving today, you’re it.”

“I’m taking a meeting with Edward Davenport?” I blinked. Edward Davenport, CEO of Davenport Industries, was practically a celebrity in Chicago. And why not? He had the smashing good looks of a movie lead, the brains to tackle the country’s top law school at nineteen, a tragic past, and the world’s formidable most company behind him.

“Not you.” Adrianna rolled her eyes. “Guy and Asiv are, but the meeting room, it’s a wreck and—”

“Get the cleaning crew up here, then,” I said. “That’s not my job. If Angus wants to meet with Edward Davenport, he’ll want all the materials prepped. I need to start that.”

“He’s going to be here at three!” Adrianna looked frantic at the thought. “The maintenance staff takes hours, and I’ll never get the office cleaned in time. You know how hopeless I am with cleaning products—we always kept a maid.”

“Get somebody to help,” I said.

“But what about the phones?”

“Have one of the McClavens do it.”

“You know they hate that.”

“What’s this? It appears my well of compassion has dried right up. He pays them, they can answer the phones for an hour. I have to prep the materials.”

On cue, the phone rang. “Oh, that’ll be Angus,” Adrianna said, fluttering her hands worriedly. Yes, she actually fluttered her hands. Like an old-time movie actress.

I waved a hand at her. “Send it back to me. He wants to talk to me, anyway.” And with that, I trudged the familiar path to my cubicle.

“Girl!” Angus’s European accent (I’d never been able to quite place its source) thundered through the handset. “Where have you been?”

“On the phone with a potential client,” I lied as I sat down behind my cluttered desk.

“I’m sure. Have Adrianna get fresh coffee—use the corporate account, don’t put it on the company card until we teach that idiot in accounting how to actually pay the bill—and have it waiting, and hot, precisely at three. We’ll need the sales packet for the millennium clients, not that piddly one you put together for the golds and the silvers.”

I bit my tongue over the retort that those “piddly” packets had taken me the better part of a month of arguing with Angus to perfect, and continued to jot down his demands. Once he’d finished, he sighed. “And for heaven’s sakes, Girl, put on proper shoes before Edward and I get into the office, will you?”

I glanced around, but Angus was nowhere to be seen. “How did you know that—?”

“I didn’t, but you just confirmed it.”

Damn.

Thankfully, Angus just chuckled. “Proper shoes,” he said, and hung up.

I dug into the bottom drawer of my desk for the pair of plain black flats I kept on hand. As long as nobody came too near my feet, which had been sweating a little in the heat that morning, everything would be fine. Feet shod, I headed across the office to where Asiv and Guy shared a glassed-in office. Asiv, as usual, was tilted back in his office chair, asleep. Guy sat behind his mahogany monster of a desk, his hands steepled as he regarded something on his computer screen. I tapped on the door; he straightened.

“Hey,” he said once I’d entered. “Something up?”

“You haven’t heard?” I rolled my eyes for emphasis. “Angus scored a meet with Edward Davenport. And since you’re not blowing this joint for a few more hours, you get to sit in on it.”

“Fantastic.” Guy’s lips quirked up in a smile. “Does that mean you have paperwork for me?”

“Millennium packet.” I handed over a thick manila demo folder. Edward Davenport would naturally get the one in the slick black binding, presentation-perfect. “You’ll want to look over that before the meeting. Review the numbers. The usual.”

Guy rose to his full height to take the packet from me. Standing, he towered over me—and everybody in the office. Actually, sitting in his office chair, he was almost of a height with me. Nobody would ever consider me tall. Diminutive, maybe. Elfin was how one ex-boyfriend had described me.

I preferred “short.”

“Are you coming to my going-away party tonight?” Guy asked, not looking at me as he paged through the packet. His hair came down his forehead and over his stylish glasses. The sleeves of his seersucker dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows. He looked like exactly what he was: a trust-fund boy idling the days away in publishing.

On the side of the room, Asiv let out a snort in his sleep.

I bit my lip. Hang out with my coworkers outside of the office? You couldn’t have paid me enough, even if Guy was the only nice one in the office.

“I’m sorry,” I said, twisting my fingers together behind my back. “I’m behind on work.”

“Really?” And this time Guy did look up from the paperwork to chuckle at me. “Can’t get away for one night?”

If I could, I definitely wasn’t going to spend an evening with my coworkers. So I smiled at Guy and prepared for my retreat. “Come say bye before you leave, will you?” I asked him, and before he could answer, I turned and left.

***

By the time Edward Davenport descended on the offices of Mirror Reality, every spare inch had been scrubbed and polished until the shine on the chrome wall panels threatened to give me a headache. Angus paced like a general surveying his troops. In truth, he was the furthest thing from a general, being stoop-shouldered and a little bit pigeon-toed. He made up for the former with expensive Italian suits and the latter with expensive Italian shoes.

Angus P. Vanderfeld was nothing if not classy.

The phones rang once: the signal that Edward Davenport had arrived. Since my desk wasn’t anywhere near the route they would take to the meeting room, I hunkered down to look over some client requests.

I jumped about three feet into the air when a shadow fell over the desk.

“Hello.”

The media hadn’t done Edward Davenport justice, I saw when I looked up. Dashing, I thought right away. He was in his mid-forties—though you wouldn’t know it apart from laugh lines alongside crystalline blue eyes—and he wore an Italian suit every bit as expensive as Angus’s, only he filled his much more nicely. His teeth were slightly crooked, but on such a handsome, rugged face, it was only endearing.

And he was smiling right at me.

“I’m Eddie,” he said, holding out a hand.

I rose somewhat unsteadily to shake his hand. “Gail,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“What do you do for Mirror Reality, Gail?”

“What doesn’t she do for Mirror Reality is the proper question.” Guy came forward, smiling. He’d rolled his sleeves down. “She keeps this place running, Eddie.”

Guy Bookman was on a nickname-basis with one of the most powerful men in the world? I’d apparently missed that memo. I probably should have paid more attention to him while we’d been in the same office. It was too late for that now.

“Hold on.” Eddie paused, still studying my face. “You look familiar. Are you—you’re her, aren’t you?”

I sighed. Should have seen that coming.

“What is it the media calls you?” Eddie went on. “Hostage Girl? Hostage Girl Gail Godwin.”

Now I barely swallowed my surprised look. Not only had he recognized me, but he’d remembered my real name when most of the world had forgotten it.

And he wasn’t done. “Can I be honest with you? That has to be the most uncreative nickname the press has published in ages. No offense.”

“None taken,” I said.

“How are you doing today?” Eddie said. “No bank holdups? Hostage situations? Time bombs ticking down?”

“Not yet, thank god.” When the answer seemed to dim Eddie’s smile a little bit, I hastened to add, apologetically, “But it’s early.”

“I like that attitude.” Eddie smiled again and patted my shoulder. If he weren’t a hot lawyer, the move would have seemed grandfatherly. “I see the big man’s getting impatient, so Guy here had better shuffle me along to this all-important meeting. Very nice to have met you, Girl.”

“Same to you, Mr. Davenport.”

“Eddie, please.” One last roguish smile (well, roguish for a man who sat behind a desk all day), and he was off, Guy and Asiv in tow, to meet Angus. Even as I sat back down, I noticed that he didn’t stop again. He nodded at some, smiled at others, but the only one he’d stopped to talk to was me. And minor celebrity that I was or not…well, that was a bit odd.

***

Once five o’clock hit, and Eddie Davenport was still in the meeting, the office did not become a desert. Instead, my coworkers all sat at their desks, adjusting their faux-reading glasses as they squinted at their screens and tried to look as if they actually knew what work was. I, on the other hand, actually got stuff done.

Eddie left a little before six. The instant the elevator dinged closed behind him, there was an immediate rustling as people went for their coats and purses and tromped out together, no doubt headed to The Nine to drink and send Guy off to his greener pastures. I waved. Finally: the office to myself. I cranked up the music, pulled my hair out of its French twist, and hunkered down for some serious editing.

Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows—seen through Guy and Asiv’s office—the sun dripped out of the sky in a glory of color. I switched on my desk light. The stars came out. I nuked a cup of microwaveable noodles and slurped them up while I double-checked numbers in a report. Angus had a meeting with the board coming up, and he wanted everything looked over at least twice before he made any presentations. Being anal hadn’t always won him fans, but it had never lost him business.

I was still checking those figures when the tapping began.

After the third or fourth time I was kidnapped from the office—and the first time my kidnapper had actually done some damage—Angus installed a set of high-powered alarms. “Great,” I’d said at the time. “Now I’ll know I’m a sitting duck. Thanks, Angus.”

He’d merely smiled and pointed out that forewarned is forearmed.

When the tapping started now, I froze and glanced at the alarm console Angus had purposely put above my desk. Steady green—no threat. Yet.

The tapping persisted. Slowly, I opened my desk drawer and withdrew the letter opener I’d borrowed from Adrianna. Thankful that I’d never bothered to return it, I held it in a death grip and turned.

Somebody was outside the windows.

Angus’s offices are on the seventh floor of the Shrewfield Building in the Loop. The only people who hover outside the windows are the heroes who can fly and the window-washers who come by every other month. A memo always went out so that we’d know they were coming and wouldn’t startle us, so I knew it wasn’t the latter. Besides, they never cleaned at ten o’clock at night.

So the only possibilities of somebody outside the windows were superheroes or supervillains. Given my luck, it was usually the latter.

This time, it wasn’t. My hand, fisted around the letter opener, dropped to my side. I held up one finger to hold off my visitor, and disengaged the alarm. It could have been an impostor, mind-controlling me to believe it was Blaze hovering outside the window, but I doubted it. For one, mind-control villains have always had a difficult time with me. One of the more notable, Sykik, had offhandedly claimed that there just wasn’t much there to control.

Seeing as I’d never met a test I couldn’t ace, I think he was probably just trying to cover up the fact that I was one of the 20 percent with a mental shield that was naturally hard to break. Didn’t mean it couldn’t be done, the supervillain expert I’d talked to had claimed. But it would take a lot of energy and forethought to make me believe in things that weren’t there.

And besides, it was obviously Blaze hovering outside of the window. Most flying superheroes and -villains pointed their toes when they hovered, as if they were going to be more aerodynamic while standing still. Blaze never did. He stood on the air like he stood on solid ground. Every part of him was still, from the hands crossed over his chest to his black (rather scuffed) boots.

He was outside Asiv’s office, about three feet away from the building itself. I pushed the window open as much as the safety bar would allow me. “What are you doing here?”

His green eyes, seen through the slits of his black mask, cut from my face, down to the letter opener left forgotten in my hand, and back. Even through the mask, I could see the raised eyebrow of amusement.

“Well, you know,” I said, dropping the weapon on Asiv’s desk. “Every little bit helps.”

A tiny tilt of the head in acknowledgment, an isolated movement.

“So I guess you don’t know what you’re doing here?”

Now I could tell he was smiling behind the mask. I’d always been able to tell.

Apparently, he wasn’t going to talk. And he wasn’t going to reveal why he was hovering outside though I figured I knew that much. I’d come to suspect that Blaze was usually nearby wherever I was. That never bothered me. It was something akin to having a security blanket, albeit dressed in green and with the ability to take a bullet to the face.

But he had never made his presence known before now.

I decided to try again. “Am I in danger?”

An emphatic shake of the head, no.

Something occurred to me. “Oh, right,” I said mostly to myself. “Thank you for getting me away from Razor X. Again. You have no idea how much it means to me, you taking time out of your day all the time just to save my scrawny ass.”

Now, an incline of the head, and an amused look in those green eyes. Spring green, I should say. Not hazel, but a true, bright, outstanding green, just like Jeremy’s.

“And thank War Hammer for me, too? If you see him?”

The amusement vanished. War Hammer and Blaze weren’t friends? I’d always assumed they were, being the headlining superheroes of Chicago. Had I unknowingly been the central figure in a temporary truce between enemies? Given how much I hated my coworkers, I’d never foist the need to work with a distasteful partner on somebody else.

Seeing my mortification, Blaze quickly shook his head and tried to look as contrite as is possible behind a face mask.

As absurd as it was, holding an entire conversation with Blaze wasn’t silly, like trying to converse with a mime would be. Blaze’s eyes were by far the most expressive eyes I’d ever seen. And even more than that, he seemed to be able to interpret my reactions far better than anybody in my life ever had, even my boyfriend of two years (well, ex-boyfriend now).

Which was why I found myself saying, “Do you want…” What, Gail? I asked myself. To come in and have some tea? Nope—couldn’t drink through the mask, and there was obviously no way he was unmasking in front of me. Who knew if he even liked tea? Or if I had any left in my cubicle? So I said, “To go for a walk with me?”

Surprise flared in those green eyes. Well, more like shock. And then one tight nod.

So I went on a walk with Blaze, my savior. The man sure to deliver the antidote if I’d been poisoned, who’d personally pulled me out of more fiery buildings than I cared to count and, on one notable occasion, a live volcano. He waited for me to take the elevator down after closing the window. And we walked, silently. Mercifully, the streets were bare, save for us, so nobody gawked at Hostage Girl and her own appointed superhero.

Neither of us said a word. Blaze because he wasn’t going to talk and reveal his identity to me. Me because I had no idea what you say to the man who had done all of the aforementioned. We strolled along with the polite distance of acquaintances between us as though he hadn’t carried me in his arms like a classic damsel in distress every time he rescued me. Etiquette is such an odd thing.

Around us, the night was misty and foggy in the way only true autumnal nights can be. The bridge glowed green in the mist, evenly spaced light poles creating brief pools of yellow. I kept my hands in the pockets of my jacket to avoid the chill. Blaze didn’t seem to feel the cold at all even though his green shirt was thin, defining his muscles nicely. It made me wonder if superheroes had gyms, or if he’d woken up on the day he’d become a superhero to find a set of washboard abs and pecs to die for.

Finally, when we reached the top of the bridge and had paused by mutual agreement to stare into the murky river below, I broke the silence. “You’re not Jeremy.”

Again, surprise. And a bare shrug.

“So you are Jeremy?”

Another shrug.

“What you are,” I said to myself, “is no help whatsoever.”

This time there was no shrug. But there was a definite smile behind that mask.

I didn’t say anything else—and neither did he—while we were on that bridge. After a while had passed, I turned and began to head back to the office. I had more work to do before I could go home that night. Blaze kept pace with me even though his legs seemed to be twice as long as mine. Jeremy never bothered to slow his loping stride down, so I was sometimes forced to jog to keep up. Blaze matched my stride perfectly.

When we reached my building, Blaze nodded at me, and then the door behind me. Our odd little walk was over. He would wait for me to get safely inside. I mustered a smile for him and headed inside, peeking over my shoulder. It was so rare that I got to see him when the world wasn’t in peril. He stood, arms crossed, a shadow thrown over his face from the streetlamp behind him. I turned away to go inside.

In the elevator, my phone buzzed. The display screen showed Jeremy’s name and picture. It was only a text: Leaving on a jet plane. See ya when I see ya.

I texted back: Have fun in Miami, and magnanimously did not call him any names.

The office was just as I’d left it, save for the rose on my desk. A single white rose with a green ribbon tied around its stem. I stared. That was Blaze’s trademark, but when on earth had he had time…? Confused, I whirled, but the windows were all locked. The alarm beeped a steady green. I carefully picked up the rose and fingered the ribbon. Only then did I see the note, written in black ink on plain (if heavy) cardstock.

I’m sorry. Good-bye.

Blaze’s signature drawing—just a little cartoon flame—was doodled beneath the words.

“The hell?” I asked, turning the rose over. It took me a full minute of staring to realize what it meant: the walk hadn’t been because he’d wanted to see me outside of the confines of danger. He’d been saying good-bye.

So where was Blaze going?

And though every feminist in history would throw her hands up in disgust, my next thought was, who would save me now?

8 comments:

  1. The plot thickens!

    Love the way you can pace things - be it exposition or action scenes - your writing never drags. And there is always a hidden undercurrent of how happy you are when writing! Which is great as that joy rubs off the reader and pulls them in for more.

    A rare gift. Can't wait for more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awwww, thank you, Lou! I think the joy increases when I'm doing horrible things to the character, too. So awful scenes come across as even more gleeful. My editor's probably like, "Heyyyy, Lexie, maybe cut back on that a little?" I hope you like the book when it comes out. ;)

      Delete
  2. That was a nice surprise as I didn't realise there was more to this chapter (The ebook excerpt stoped before the chapters end). I think you were posting a third one? Looking forward to that if I remembered correctly.
    Only 41 days to go to 18/11/14 :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I believe the excerpt, which hadn't been copy-edited, just edited and edited and edited, cut off quite a bit sooner. Alas, I am not going to be posting a third one. Just these two. You get to meet Jeremy, and you get to meet Blaze. :) But hey, the third one will be available in a little over a month! I'm glad you're loving it so far!!!

      Delete
  3. Crazy4Orcas10/9/14, 8:41 PM

    Things are really getting interesting! Loving this so far! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Orcas! It gets even twistier in chapter 3....which unfortunately everybody has to wait to read. But I'm happy you liked it! Also, hi! I'm going to reply to your email very soon!

      Delete
  4. "It made me wonder if superheroes had gyms, or if he’d woken up on the day he’d become a superhero to find a set of washboard abs and pecs to die for."

    It was made even funnier by the recent Flash pilot.

    Looking forward to the next chapter! And the rest of the book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my god, there's something even further on in the book that's gonna make you laugh because of the Flash pilot. Seriously. You're just going to shake your head and give that delightful French chuckle, and be all, "Oh, Lexie."

      Unfortunately it's just going to be these two chapters, but the third chapter will be available on 18/11/14! ;)

      Delete

Please keep it PG. My mom reads this blog.