Maybe we are them—the superheroes in Garfield's comic books. Who says that we're not? Reality? How many times have we outgrown reality? I can heal. She has super strength, Chase can connect to people, to animals, Vic is smart, and you, you, Richard, can fight-more so than the rest of us-for all of us!"
I come awake at the sound of sirens. Their howling comes at a distance and as it enters into a near velocity, it swings violently against the brick walls that hold the street apartments together. The sound triples in intensity. It's a common ringing throughout Jump. I listen as those sounds fade into the distance and stare at my ceiling while my vision refocuses. Though, not much color reenters my sight. Just black, a little less black, gray, and a little lighter gray fill the scene. I note the grimy texture of the rust dabbling ceiling.
It was a better night—the best in the week she's been here. She slept soundly, yet I feel awful for some reason—reasons I will probably overanalyze and find out later. Maybe it has to do with the daily doses of doctors swarming the place. Every day, morning and night, doctors would show up and stick around, expecting me to entertain them with small talk when I clearly have no new information from the last few hours to tell them. I don't do small talk.
The sirens sound again and I wonder what Starfire would think of them and how they never seem to fade from hearing even when they are gone. Maybe it's because the tune is like a continuous song stuck on the same two notes. Wee and Woo. Those two notes I learned to associate with crime. It never leaves the city, sirens always sound, and the people question if the cadets are even doing anything to help rid the burglars, thieves, and occasional mad scientists. We've gotten a few of those lately. Yet, I am beginning to think that too—especially after my stunt months ago.
My phone rings.
"Yo, man, we're trying to find the street to turn off of."
"Where are you now?"
"Just park there. I will come get you—it's a hard place to find."
"Hey!" I hear muffling in the background, "I-If she's Starfire, then d-does that m-make R-Richard Robin?"
"Garfield, I'm trying to use the phone!"
With that, I hang up, lazy, dropping the phone to my thigh, unveiled from the sheets, exposed to the cold air. With the strength driven by the bulk of a breath, I slowly shuffle through my sheets and place my feet on the ground—it's a cold ground like any other ground. I push through the pain of soreness built in my back and shift my weight upon my heels as I arched forward, now trying to stand. From my view supported by my stance, I look to the small piece of sky hanging above the adjacent building complex. It's a gray morning—again.
From the pile of clothes before the windowsill, I withdraw my red jacket. Coming out of my room, I push my heavy arms through the sleeves and jerk the fabric of the collar, swishing the hood over my head.
"Good morning, Mr. Grayson."
"Would you know the location of the key the door's locked with?"
"Yeah, I gave it to her to have." I busy myself with opening the cabinet for a pop tart to eat on the way. Last one.
"Oh—this makes things inconvenient."
"I'm stepping out for a few. Will you be here?"
"Alone? With her? Uh, yes. Yes, I guess so. But, are you sure there's no spare key?"
With morning weariness, I walk out the front door to find myself wrapped in cold weather. I step down the apartment staircase, careful not to trip on the steps my eyes can't exactly recognize yet, and start for the main road across the parking lot. It's quieter than usual. No mothers leashing their children or loud talkers on their cellphones. There're no honking, no cussing, and no screeching breaks—just the scattered ruffling of crinkling, dry leaves that stir with the wind. I still find it impressive how the agency was able to buy out all the housing contracts of all my neighbors in such a short amount of time. I don't plan to question it. I would want to leave to.
I take a bite out of my pop tart and rub my runny nose on my sleeve. Sleep's been rare. I am less focused and a lot weaker, a bad thing to be in this situation. I feel my guard slipping, my vulnerability rising, and my swings and punches at the punching bag losing intensity. For that reason, I lock my room at night—just as she does. Because she has a tendency to mirror me, I know I shouldn't' switch the latch on my door. Because of the familiarity we have, she takes into account how I react and somewhat mirrors it. Back on the streets, when I threw the first punch, she threw the second. When I stepped back, so did she. When I sat still the many times in the hospital, she sat still before me. So, if I become distrusting, how can she ever trust me? But, when did I ever want her trust?
Through both sets of locked doors, I still can still hear her whimpering. Last night was better mostly because I didn't have to force myself to ignore it or tell myself over and over again how there was nothing I could do to help. However, she finally slept. I finally slept.
"Yo, Richard!" I hear from the other direction. "So lost in thought you didn't see us?" Victor laughs from the white sonata, the two others behind him. "And did ya sleep in your clothes? Those are the same from yesterday." He comments, scanning my jeans, shirt, and sweater—there is that same stain on my jeans. Dammit. "You look tired, man."
"Just not getting the best of sleep." As we walk the way back to the apartment, I look to Rachel and Garfield, "The place looks a lot different from when you guys were there."
"Is t-the loft couch s-still t-there?" Garfield says. Rachel is rather quiet.
"Loft is still there. Couch has been replaced."
"Why?" Answer: Sharp edges—shouldn't say that.
"Because the Cadet Agency didn't like the fabric," Vic answered.
"B-But it was s-so soft."
"Here kid." I hand him his scarf.
"Y-You d-don't n-need it?"
"I've had it for long enough."
There is a period of silence, we to walk the winding to my apartment. "How is she?" Vic asked, taking out a recorder in likeness to the Doctor's.
"We're doing this now?"
"It's the doctor's orders." He holds the device up to my chin. Reluctantly, I speak into it. "November fifteenth, Two-thousand and twenty one. I-uh-think it's a Monday. Could be a Tuesday. Her condition hasn't changed much since last night if the doctors are wondering."
"Mind the sass."
"Uh, she's staying in her room for most of the day. Uh, she slept a full night yesterday. No beams, no flight, no super strength—yet. She's been walking more often, I've noticed. I'm not too sure if that's because of natural process or another alien ability to regenerate strength. Still don't know a name."
"I-It's Starfire." Garfield says.
"No, it's not Garfield—that's a comic book character."
"Comic book character made real!"
I ignore him as we approach the apartment. In process, Vic tucks his voice recorder into his bag and the rest of the chattering falls behind me as I open the door after jabbing the key into its lock between the metal bars a few times. There Frank is again, probably given up on trying to get through a door locked to keep him out. He repacks his needles and other forms of treatments I clearly can't recognize. I think that's a shot. I'm banking on the fact that that's a shot.
"Oh hello there, Mr. Grayson."
"I'm afraid she won't be waking anytime soon. Are you sure there is no spare? The Doctor or Commander didn't give you a spare that you could have possibly tucked away somewhere for safe keeping? Like a piggy bank or—"
"Alright then. I will send officials over this afternoon in addition to tonight's officials later this evening."
"As expected." I retrieve four glasses from the cabinet and head to the sink to fill them with water. At the loosening of the handle, the sink spits a violent spray of liquid—water I hope—and I run the glasses under it. It looks fine—no lead. Clear water. To the table, I go, set down the glasses, gesturing the others to sit. Amongst their chatter, I find myself dabbling with the dishrag on the countertop as the others fill the space of the small kitchen. Beside me, they sit, watching the man at the opposite side of the kitchen draw up his brief case. Their stares turn blank at Frank, now awkwardly realizing his audience of four children. He saunters out.
I hear him say something like 'thank you for your time' as I examine my hands against the wood and how the wetness of my fingers casts a frost upon the surface at my print. The door shuts suddenly, sounding the metal framing to hiss.
"Where's the key?" Vic asks.
I slide it over to him across the table.
"You didn't give it to him why?" Rachel inquires.
"A lot of reasons."
"They are just here to help." Vic says. After a moment paces, Rachel looks to Vic who takes the key in his hand. His hold is gentle as he carefully observes the neck of the blade. Over that neck, his fingers fold. His chin raises, his eyes returns to Rachel's, and together, they nod.
"What's going on?"
"Rachel thinks she can—" Vic says, "She can help."
"She can help?" I repeat—it wasn't a question—putting down my cup of water, half empty.
"Yeah," Rachel mutters. "I think I can."
"Can you? Or has Garfield told you that you can."
"D-Does i-it matter?"
"Yes, Garfield," I stand to clean out my cup in sink, "it matters."
"B-But why?" He follows up. I ignore him, but he asks again. "Why? W-Why does it m-matter w-what I said to R-Rachel."
"Look," I continue to wash the glass, "I'm just saying that it isn't like Rachel to—."
"Why wouldn't it be her idea?" Vic asks.
"Look guys, it's the morning. Let's not do this again."
Rachel answers before I could, "I know I don't have much confidence, but I really think I can help this time. Garfield's arm is all healed up from tripping in the matter of days I—"
"You are not going near the person!"
"H-Her n=name is Starfire!" Shouts Garfield.
"Garfield, hush!" Challenges Rachel.
"R-Remember m-my arm?" Garfield unveils his wrists, "T-they w-were all cut up a-and stuff. No cuts n-now. N-Not even a scar. Rachel did it—"
"Rachel isn't magic! There isn't such thing as magic, Garfield! If she goes in there," I throw my finger into the door's direction. "There-There will be no magic healing. She's going to get hurt!"
"This isn't a comic book, Garfield! There is a dangerous person inside that room that doesn't know a tap from a punch. She shattered a wall! And you want me to throw Rachel in there?"'
"Leave him alone," Rachel interrupts, shoving me back. "This was my idea."
"C-Call her by h-her name."
"Call her by her n-name."
"Shut up! Shut up you three!" Vic calls. "We're always yelling at each other. Always. You, Richard, back in your seat! You two, back in your seats. We're going to talk civilly, alright?"
"You know what? You can't tell me what to do. This is my own house."
"It's your dad's—so there's no kicking us out when we are required to be here under the cadet academy law. If you need to leave," he gestured, holding the door open. "Leave. Go for a walk."
I knock my cup off the table and hear it shatter, a stinging sensation that drives my fist to my chest, readying to hit the wall. That's anger. I feel it inside of me, eating at me, taking over me and my ability to see. It's hard to see, to peer through the black—the monster. A breath. Try to breath. I regain sight at the wall—it staring back at me, she staring back at me through it. I lock my eyes against the wall and try to convince myself that nothing is behind it.
"Go for a walk." Vic tells me calmly, he holding Garfield behind him. Rachel peers from his side. "I will clean up the kitchen."
"No," I tell them, my eyes flooding to me feet, "I will do it when I get back. Just—stay out of the kitchen and Starfire's room, okay? I know you have the key." I press my weight away from them and to the door, hoping my feet will catch me and take me outside, down the road, to the city. They eventually do, but not before the young boy calls my name, runs out to me, and wraps his black scarf around my neck. He told me it was warm and went back into the house. I watched him go and wondered why he didn't shut the door behind him. The light of the kitchen poured from the open door and fell to the place my feet met the first thin blanket of snow—that's weird. Snow here? It was thin and melting, but still snow on the dark, gray evening.
It was quiet.
No sirens for once—just quiet.
I watch the footprints in the slush before me and wondered how mine would look like added to the collection. I found it odd: snow by the ocean, somewhat of a geological paradox, as if the alien's coming turned the earth on its head. I think about the monster and who that is in my situation. I remember that rage in the kitchen and I cannot recall where it came from or how it came. It just did. It overtook my body and lost control my fists that were ready to punch the wall—maybe even shatter it like a monster could. I don't doubt my ability to. I've trained with monsters and fought enough villains to know how to be one—to be a monster or a villain that is.
I'm not worried about being one, though. I'm worried about not realizing that I am becoming one, having the inner demons swallow but by bit before I can address the problem. With that in mind, I recount my greatest advantage over everyone that I tend to use to my advantage. It's a great ability that allows me to observe. It's one I can manipulate to my advantage and bring down the opponent. Lately, I have been wondering if my opponents are even the bad guys. I feel dark and bitter, that monster using that ability to its benefit instead of mine. I'm supposed the hero.
So, I unravel the black scarf from my neck and blind myself. I take my greatest ability, and that is sight—the ability to see.
I know these streets. A part of training was knowing every corner from every alley, every street form every plaza, so I don't need eyes to guide my feet. I just need to think—to walk like Victor said. Victor says a lot of things and most of the time he's right. Remember that for me because it would give me hell to say that to him—or to anyone. I had met him two years ago. I had met Rachel and Garfield six months ago, right after my birthday. All unaccompanied minors were supposed to be reported to the authorities of the Cadet Agencies for recruitment, but something different happened—a secret the doctoral branch has helped me keep. Vic too.
"You look troubled," I hear a withered voice, a woman's crinkling voice, and decide to stop in my tracks. I should be passing Lateral Drive—typically there is no one here. "Your scarf is tied around your eyes. Are your eyes cold, child?"
"No—just out for a walk."
"Won't you come inside? I feel as if—" she pauses, "I feel as if we need to talk. May you take down your blind so you know my face? And know that I do not wish to inflict harm on the agency's star trainee."
I think for a moment, hunching over in my stance, and decide to take down the blind. Slowly, I untie the knot upon my neck and let the fabric fall to my chin. I do not look at her in the eyes, but watch my feet. Though, I can see that she is a small woman of graying hair and tan skin that resembled her voice, crinkled and withered. In layers of patched shawls, some red, some brown, some a patterned white, she hides her shoulders.
"How did you know who I was?"
"I know everything," she smiled a crooked grin, her lips chapped. "And know that you are troubled, blindfolding yourself like so on a dark day like this one. Are you afraid, child? I sure am."
"If you know everything, then what would you ever be afraid?"
"Hmm," she laughs, we beginning to walk down the street. There was something strange about her that set my nerves high—the same nerves the agency taught me to understand. However, I couldn't pinpoint how they felt. I was a ghost emotion and I didn't know how to feel.
"I haven't thought about that." She says, "I guess I know nothing, then." We stop at a cottage decorated in lights, pounded into the side of a brick building I swear I have never seen before. The words "Fortune Teller" were brought up in pink and yellow lights above the window.
"Don't worry, sweetie. I'm not that bad kind."
"The one's that manipulate to thieve money from some a poor soul's pocket, you see. Thank goodness, I am not, for my sake at least. Or else, I would be in great trouble with you." She was right, if she planned to hurt me, I could easily put an end to her. I am not in any danger. That was a bad thought. I want to blind myself again.
"May I borrow your scarf, child? I am fascinated by the fabric."
I hand it to her as we step inside. It's warm inside the mysterious cottage however—cozy. I no longer feel a frost biting my cheek. A fire burns across the entrance and flickers fiery colors upon the walls cluttered with shelves, knickknacks, and others things. By the look of it, she collects antique things, such a tea pots, tea cups, bottles (some coke bottles), and vases from some far land beyond the northern Californian coast.
"Come sit by the fire, dear." She gestures to the pink speckled chair placed beside hers facing the fire. I tried my hardest to keep my guard up and did not trust the tea she placed before me. But, it was so warm—so nice.
"You wanted to talk to me."
"Well," She says, "I do have a few things to say to the Richard Grayson. But, I feel an energy—coming from you. And eagerness perhaps. Is something on your mind?
"Are you sure? It's best not to lie to someone who knows everything."
"I thought you said you knew nothing."
"It changes every now and then." I watch her in silence as she sips her tea before her. "May I ask a few questions?"
"Don't you already know the answers?"
"Do you know your answers?"
"But, I don't know the questions."
"Then might I ask?"
"When you graduate, what will your name be? I know this is random, but I ask this out of curiosity."
"I don't know."
"Why not? Perhaps you have a favorite animal?"
I felt silent. "It's not about that."
"Do you not wish to talk about it?"
"I messed up—was demoted—forced to take a break to do something else. Graduation doesn't look like it's in the plan anymore."
"Are you happy with this job?"
"What job? Trainee?"
"No—this guardian job?"
"It's nothing I've never done before."
"So you're not happy?"
"There's such thing as an in-between. Don't people usually go between happy and not happy?
"You are right. There is happy and there is sad. The middle is complacent. Is that you?
"Look, I-I need to go." I stand.
"I'm sorry. Did I upset you?"
"I don't have time for this."
"Something like that."
"But, I haven't told you what I need to tell you."
"Nah-ah-ah." She pardons. "Please sit down. Take your tea cup. There is no need to drink. I can see that a strong young man like you is also clever by not taking drinks from strangers. Though, I must show you something.
Defeated, I sit back down into the chair and withdraw my cup from its little tea plate. It clanks upon the small wooden coffee table beside. I draw it beneath my nose and look to her.
"Look inside. Tell me what you see."
"I don't see anything."
"Oh child," She laughs, "Why must you continue to lie to someone who knows everything, yet nothing at the same time? You see a bird, a particular one too. Won't you tell which one it is?"
"I-I'm sorry, but I don't know."
"Precisely. You must figure it out then." I look to her, bewilderment flowing off of me like a waterfall I cannot contain. From my blank expression, it breaks through and she finds herself content. A kind smile rises between her wrinkly cheeks and she stands to walk out the door.
"For, you have figured it out just now."
"Who—" I pause. "Who are you?"
"Don't follow depictions of white garbs and harps. They will lead you astray. I can see that you don't believe in magic—and neither do I. But I use something similar to catch the attention of misguided humans. We call these gifts. Use them, do not blind yourself, train them. Anyway, you have a job to do." She hands me my black scarf and I feel odd about taking it. She walks me to the door. "Oh, and Richard," She pauses, I mid-way through the frame of the entrance, feeling the cold bite of the evening. "Remember something for me. Despite the people you take care of, you carry the story. She plays a great part; however, your story is about you."
With that, she closes the door, I to face the building, bewildered, confused, horrified, eager and satisfied. I'm ready to cry without knowing why. That aside, I found my way home that night without the use of the black scarf. Night fell without me realizing it fell. How long was I talking to the—the woman. I guess the time, late at night, and hope I am wrong.
"And that's when we ran into Richard—outside on the streets." I hear inside the apartment—I find it odd, unfamiliar. Though, I step inside. There before the Starfire's door, Gar sits, rubbing his eyes as he talks—clearly, fluently, without a stutter. My eyes quickly shift to Rachel and Vic asleep at the table. "W-We couldn't take the kitten I-I t-told you about, but I'm s-sure it was fine. It was s-summer then—not chilly. M-Maybe I can find it one day and show y-you."
"Garfield?" I say.
"R-Richard!" He lazily climbs to his feet. "Y-Your back—we-we were worried about you." I looked at the clock. Eleven at night—gone for eleven hours. What? What the hell?
"Garfield…" I say, hearing a faint clinking of chains behind the door he seemed to be talking to. "…what are you doing?"
"J-Just talking to Starfire—well, I'm t-talking."
"Through the door?"
" Yeah. Is that okay? She didn't come out all day and—"
"Yeah—uh, of course." I look at him, he a foot below my own height, and feel the need to hold onto him—something odd like that. A hug? What is a hug? Gosh, my mind. I clasp my head.
"I-Is everything o-okay?"
"Yeah, it's just late and tired. You guys will have to stay here the night. Go try out the new loft sofa. There's extra blankets in the cabinet up there." With a nod, he trudges up the stairs. I turn to Vic, head against the table surface, but decided to clean up the glass scattered upon the floor. I let the sharpness of edges prick my skin as I dispose of the shards. Those shards now in the wastebasket, I lift myself to a weary stance and lightly shove Vic awake.
"Help me carry Rachel upstairs," I ask him. Exiting sleep, drowsiness written all over his expression, he begins to nod continuously as he rises and finds his balance. Without a word, he takes her in his arms and carries her to the sofa upstairs adjacent to the one Garfield now lies upon, the young boy smug-faced and smiling. As we lay her on the couch, Garfield lays a blanket over her, she to nuzzle into the pillow out of comfort—it's rare to see her affectionate, even if it towards a pillow—in her sleep. Content with ourselves, we watch her and Vic playfully brushes Garfield's messy hair.
"Get to bed, you fool." He says, playfully pushing the kid down upon his sofa. Hushing his laughter, Garfield swings himself under his blankets and watches us leave. He will be turning twelve soon. Rachel will be thirteen.
I lay Garfield's scarf over him and mutter a "thanks." Then, I turn out the light and head down the stairs. Vic stands in the kitchen helplessly rubbing out the sleep his eyes. "You can take my bed," I tell him. "I'm going to stay awake—check on things—research and all. The door is still locked. I'm guessing the doctors didn't get in."
"Coming in the morning." He mumbles, "Everything alright? You look frazzled."
"Yeah," I make my way to the kitchen to prepare some food for her and myself. "Just—" I look to him. "I think I talked with an angel today."