A couple months ago on my facebook group I posted a question. Originally the winner was supposed to get a shout out in the newest chapter of a current story but i decided to take it one step further. The prize, awarded to faithful reader Dispatcher652. became a one shot of the winner's choice. So Dispatcher652, I tried my best to write a one shot (a very difficult feat for me mind you) while keeping to your original idea. _ urgh I don't like this way this comes out but hopefully you will be pleased. XD
and who knows, I just might actually make this a story story some day ;p
LeSean Richardson places her headset upon the computer keyboard with a weary sigh. She was tired, the evening to morning shifts starting to really wear the woman down. She slicks back her black shoulder length hair with yet another tired sigh as her flawless brown features began to relax. She didn't know how she was able to keep up this job – the tension always melted away after a few minutes off the clock. Being a 911 dispatcher was surprisingly tense; her brain and emotions should've been shot what with all the calls her line of work received…and the seriousness of those calls as well. LeSean grabs her car keys and leaves the building, the cool autumn air brushing refreshingly on her skin. The sound of screeching tires suddenly shriek through the air; LeSean turning with a baffled expression as a giant black truck swerves around the corner and approaches the corner where she stood. Everything seems to pass by in a blur; and before the dispatcher has time to react a buff arm shoots out of the open door, grabs the young woman by the neck of her tan jacket, and pulls her inside – within the blink of an eye the truck is gone and the street quiet once more…the only indication left LeSean's purse, its contents spilled on the ground greedily.
*** Max extends her leg sexily as she ties the string along her black combat boots. She fastens the string tightly when her cell rings. She reaches over on the couch and presses the call button on speaker and bends back down to adjust the rim of the boots underneath her knees. "Talk," she huffs out.
"Max," that all too familiar voice drones out. Oh boy, she knew that tone. It meant one of two things… "I'm not going to make it to pick you up. I'll meet you at the school."
"Why am I not surprised McGinnis?" Max pouts.
"Sorry Max," Batman replies back heartfelt-ly. "I know how bad you wanted this, but there's been an incident."
"Problem?" Max inquiries curiously, raising a brow.
"A dispatcher's been kidnapped by the Jokerz. Gordon thinks it has something to do with a testimony she was supposed to give about someone influential to this particular gang."
"Right. Have fun. I'll think of something to tell everyone."
"Er, there's just one more thing Max…can you – maybe, possibly – hack into the police station's security camera outside the building and-."
What a doozey, it was both things tonight. "Yeah yeah," Gibson cuts him off, already at her computer and typing. "Transfer the image feed over to you through the secure network, I know. I'm not a kid, you don't have to keep repeating the same crap over and over again."
Batman raises a brow. "Someone's touchy tonight. Mother nature extend her little gift to you?"
"Kiss my ass McGinnis!" Max declares hotly, shooting the surveillance footage over without even bothering to look at it. He was still iffy about her looking at certain documents and she was not willing to go through anymore unnecessary drama tonight. They'd had more than their share of conflict these past few months."I'm leaving."
"Taking Ace with you?"
"I'm not going to leave him here, if that's what you're implying."
"Remind me again how my dog spends more time with you now?"
Max hovers over the phone and replies, "Hey, my sis took the cat. And you're always busy, and Wayne's constantly in one of his moods – somebody's gotta treat the dog with some love, isn't that right boy?" Ace barks in response. "Besides, Ace is my hound for the night – and we will raise hell." She presses the end button, disconnecting the call. "C'mon boy. We're gonna rock this town."
****Batman shakes his head and watches the footage carefully, frowning in acknowledgement of what happened. She was definitely kidnapped. The young hero searches through the skies relentlessly, pulling several leads which all came up empty handed…until he ran into wandering Jokerz lounging around outside a burger joint. Batman leaps from his vehicle, activating camouflage to listen in on the conversation. The girl was leaning against a cycle, sipping sexily on a straw of a beverage she more than likely stole from someone. Her eyes were shifting back and forth between the Jokerz boys who surrounded her. She smiles widely, rubbing her leg up the length of her opposite calve until the skirt she wore rose ever the more. "I'm bored," she said. "Don't you boys want to keep me entertained?"
One of the clown wannabes walks towards her, planting his body between hers. "All at once, or should we take turns?"
"In your dreams dreg!" she chuckles. "I meant lets wreak some serious havoc!"
"Havoc only pleases the mind," he objects with a grin, touching her chin roughly though she continued to smile. "I wanna please the body."
"No fair!" cried out another guy from behind.
The girl snickers. "You know we cant waste that much time. We've got work to do."
"Our work's done babe. We made the switch off with the other group for that little bitch, I say we have some real fun."
"It's not just about her, idiot! We've got a job to do. Fun can come after work. Didn't your mama ever teach you that?"
"I never listened, I've got way betterrrrarrgh!" he cries out as something firmly takes hold of his shoulder and shoves him into the concrete.
"Don't you guys know its Halloween? Shouldn't you idiots be pretending to be good citizens for once?"
The small Jokerz group pulls itself together in shock, unaware that the bat had been there listening the entire time. The guy, obviously the leader stands and wipes his knuckles against his lips. "We don't conform to society's opinions of the proper do's and don'ts batboy. You should know that better than anyone."
"Where's the woman?"
"Like I'd tell you!"
Batman narrows his brows. "Alright. Guess we're doing this the hard way then." Moments later the Jokerz are sprawled out on the concrete ground, moaning and groaning in pain. Batman drops the girl's body, having heard all the details he needed as the police arrive and prepare to detain the gang. Batman nods in respect to Gordon and then hops in the hover jet to take off. According to the she-clown the dispatcher had some dirty intel on one of the Jokerz clan's most powerful leaders that could get him locked up for a while if not life. They figured the best way to keep her from giving her testimony was to simply silence her for good if not offer some persuasion into keeping her mouth shut. They didn't know where she was now, having just transferred her to another set of gang members. All the Jokerz girl had said was that someone would lose the masquerade. The closest Terry could figure was the annual Masque Ball the city held for its influential citizens the day after Halloween. There was nothing more he could do tonight. All that was left was to head home and call Max to try and dig up some leads-Batman's eyes open wide in shock. Max!
****Gibson huffed angrily at the handmade booth inside the gymnasium. Her legs were crossed and bottom foot bouncing in agitation. Two hours…it had been two damn long hours. Max turns her head down to Ace sitting beside her, chewing on the chicken she didn't want happily. "Soon as you see McGinnis next, sick him!" The Great Dane looks up from the food, cocking his head to the side some.
Chelsea dances across the dance floor towards the booth, all the guys practically drooling over her sexy, ripped up Catwoman outfit. Cunningham was the epitome of sex tonight – wondered who'd get lucky? Chelsea spots Max's pouting face and frowns. She walks slowly over to the table, turning her back to the edge and sliding back upon it smoothly. "Hey Maxie? Wanna get out on the dance floor?"
Gibson looks away. "Sorry Chels, but I'm not in the mood for dancing."
Cunningham sits up speedily. "Not in the-?" she repeats incredulously as if she'd been smacked. "Max, there's never a moment NOT to dance! C'mon girl, you're sexy in that outfit, flaunt it!" Max looks down at briefly and blushes in embarrassment. Tonight she was supposed to be a black, pink haired version of BloodRayne wearing a sensual black and red cropped leather corset which exposed her perfectly toned stomach and curvy waist, black arm gauntlets and gloves that rose up to her shoulders, embroidered form-fitting "chap" pants and midnight colored knee high heeled boots. She'd even went through the trouble of adding fang caps to her teeth. There were plenty of guys who wanted her to take a bite out of them tonight, that was for sure. Even Nelson was making more of a play than normal.
"Not feeling the vibe." She chews on her lip.
"I'm feeling the mode right now Chels."
"Yeah?" Cunningham questions, jumping off the table and taking some steps back, "well you're crashing my mode, my mood, my everything! Just because your bestie ditched you doesn't mean you have to miss out on the fun. This is your first school dance, you're supposed to be living it up right now!" But Max doesn't respond; and finally Chelsea huffs off, declaring she'd get Gibson sooner or later. With the distraction gone Max continues to sulk wearily. Terry knew how important this night was to her! Max had never attended a school dance before – it wasn't her scene, as she would say. But ever since they were kids Terry promised he would get her to attend a school dance and be her date. He finally convinced her to come to the Halloween party and he was nowhere to be seen…and it had been two hours. There was only another hour and a half to go and she wasn't enjoying herself.
Max looks down to Ace and bites her bottom lip as she watched everyone else out having so much fun with their friends and their romantic partner. She was the only one here by herself. The only one sitting alone in a booth with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Sure Gibson could've just taken Chelsea's invitation but it wasn't the same…fact was, Chelsea wasn't Terry…and Max, no matter how much she wanted to believe differently, would never be Dana. She was tired. "C'mon boy, let's go home. There's nothing for us here." Max stands, brushes her fingertips against the crown of Ace's forehead with a heavy sigh as she pushes herself out of the booth and heads towards the door. But just as she approaches something hard bumps against her chest immediately forcing the girl back. She yells, "Watch where the fuck you're going, dreg!" The countless amount of teenage bodies dancing crazily was wearing on her last nerve. This was why she hated school functions. Nuisance!
"Sorry! Er..Max?" Gibson frowns in shock as well as anger. This just wasn't her day. Looming above her was none other than Terry gawking like a baffled child at the toy store. She overlooks his outfit with annoyance. He was wearing a pair of jeans with black combat boots and a black t-shirt with a bright red Superman symbol in the center of the chest. Of course; the hero would be so full of himself that he would have to dress up as ANOTHER hero.
Max raises a judgmental eyebrow. "Superboy?" she questions with a twinge of disbelief.
Terry smirks. "Yeah, well, I thought it fit. I'm young. I'm the next of my kind-."
"You're an egotistical asshole who always finds a way to make promises and go back on his word, constantly raising the hopes of friends only to drown them back down again while still having the audacity to be a pampered Bat brat?" Max cuts him off sarcastically. "That doesn't sound like Superboy if you ask me, McGinnis. It sounds a little more like you." Gibson turns from her best friend and brushes against his shoulder, heading for the door. But a hand grips her arm, Terry preventing the girl's escape.
"C'mon Max," he pleads. "I was working."
"Then don't make promises. This relationship once meant something to you – even when you were so busy out there running errands for Wayne. No one else had your back, I did. But ever since Dana left it's almost like you're avoiding me and that's some shit I can do without. I've got enough problems." Max's eyes were cold, her words ice. Terry should've been hurt, but instead at the mere mention of Dana's name the insides of his body began to boil, ready to explode in fury.
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" he shouts over the loud techno music, face leaning in ever the closer to his best friend's. "Everything's always about you! You're the spoiled one here, not me!"
Oh no he didn't! Gibson snatches her wrist from the young vigilante's hand and shoves him back roughly against the wall; she moves up to him, pointing an accusing finger right at his face as the words practically growled from her luscious lips, "You know good and well what I'm talking about. I'm not one of your enemies, I'm not your mother, so don't play stupid with me. I'm not a fucking idiot! When sweet little Tan left you for good your attitude became real foul towards me real quick."
"That's bullshit Max and you know it," McGinnis yells back with enflamed eyes.
"Is it? You blame me for Dana dumping you – I know you do. It's my fault right? I was supposed to keep the lies and covers going so you guys could to stay together, but when she left it naturally became my fault. I didn't lie good enough – I couldn't handle it, right? And I know the only reason you promised to take me here was so you wouldn't have to feel obligated to come visit and all that other splendid crap. If you want to be an idiot and end our friendship over you not being able to dick Dana anymore then fine! I don't want you in my life anymore!"
Terry pauses. There was nothing to be said; as much as it was desirable to deny those words there was something within the Dark Knight that completely agreed with Max's words. Dana dumped him six months ago, all because Max couldn't come up with a good enough excuse. She dumped him over a text message – some low down and grimy mess, but what could he do? She had already transferred to another school, and whenever McGinnis tried to make a visit she was either never home or doing homework. He even attempted to sneak in on her as Batman, reveal his identity, show her that the suit was the reason for him blowing off dates and never returning her phone calls. But that plan didn't work out so well – seeing as how when the hero had managed to make it to her house, he saw her in her bedroom having sex with some other guy. She never looked so happy in her life. She used to be that intimate when they had sex – but it eventually turned to some robotic emotion: get horny, fuck each other's brains out, and then go about their separate ways…and that was on a good day. On a bad day (which was the majority or their relationship near the end) an argument, a brutal one, would break out not even ten minutes after the climax. But that didn't make the hurt any less. Yes. He blamed Max. He blamed her for it all, and didn't want to see her face ever again…but it wasn't entirely because he was mad – it was because every time McGinnis looked into those lovely brown eyes it was almost like Dana never existed. He didn't care that Tan left him – all the boy cared about was Max and the sensation that now something right was happening for once. It shook him up.
A clanging sound resounds over the speakers as the beat drops to an all too familiar song. Max's body stiffens, listening to the music begin. Her anger immediately begins to drop and vanish; holding herself protectively and looking slightly away. Terry's fingers touch her arm softly as the DJ repeats the first music beat two more times, giving everyone enough time to make it to the dance floor. "Max," he whispers out. "I know you're pissed and everything, and I totally deserve it. And if you wanna fight, or leave me then you can – but not during our song okay?"
"Hmph," Max coughs quietly. "Our song." Yeah, this was their song. The lyrics kinda reflected the relationship the two had. Plus, it just made sense considering Terry was always stalking into her house late at night. She smiles softly. Their song. McGinnis pulls her out onto the dance floor, positioning her body so that's in front of his. Just as the chorus line is about to start he grabs her by the waist and yanks her in so that they are chest to chest; looking into her eyes with some kind of strange longing as her arms wrap around the boy's neck and they sway against each other. A strange taste and scent begins to flood their senses, somehow managing to block everything else out in an oddly forced manner.
Hiding, behind a disguise
Can you feel me watching you?
It's magic, then I'm lost in your spell
But you don't even have a clue
Nothing else seems to matter at all in this moment with the music playing. Even the other teens in the room appear preoccupied, bumping and rubbing against one another in lustful ways. And in the mixture of all that Max doesn't know what comes over her. Even though she loved this song it had a tendency to really put her into some sexy and trance like state; but never like this. At the ringing of the smooth chorus she grips into McGinnis's shoulders and grinds her frame against Terry's sensually.
That I am hypnotized (yeah)
I'm drawn to your eyes
I just wanna see your face
Welcome to my Masquerade
Terry runs his fingers along the flesh of Max's arms in a tickling yet somehow pleasuring motion that makes his female best friend tilt her head back and sigh out. For whatever reason her body was growing so hot and wild. This song was doing something unusual to her body – she wasn't sure why – maybe the sensual layer of the music? She didn't know, and she couldn't seem to control herself from dancing like she was with Terry…Terry – who was into it probably a bit more than he should have been as well. His hands trail her back, as his eyes watch her reactions to the boy's touch. Reactions which were stirring up his body in many ways. Her face, the way her body moved against his, the way her curves cringed and shifted with each touch from his skin and from each boom of bass from the song was turning him on, and pulling the vigilante deeper into the moment.
Who are you?
What is your name?
Is this a two-faced game?
It's tragic, 'cuz after tonight
My heart will never be the same
They gaze at one another. Yes, all the anger was completely vanished. They were dancing on the border of something that had once been set up to define their existence. But after tonight, that would be over. Chelsea leans against the wall, dancing her back against it while sipping on the punch; her free hand caressing her own body hypnotically. Her eyes dart over to Max and Terry, moving against each other in such ways that seemed forbidden for friends. A smile creeps on her lips as Max turns and places her back against McGinnis, rolling her head and continuing to dance on him in an erotic motion as her friend's hands grip her thighs. Go McGinnis, Chelsea praises quietly in her mind, somewhat jealous of the fun they were having. Should she jump in? Naaah. She'd harass Max some other way – might as well let the girl enjoy the moment. Knowing those two they'd feel all guilty afterwards and get into yet another argument; and Chelsea did not want to be caught in the middle of that.
And I am hypnotized (yeah)
I'm drawn to your eyes
I just wanna see your face
Welcome to my Masquerade. Masquerade.
Just wanna see your face.
Welcome to my Masquerade.
The lights suddenly click off within the gymnasium, the music coming to a screeching halt – forcing the party goers out of their trance in bewilderment. Max looks around her, completely dazed and noticing a faint lair of fog drifting across the room's floor. It was pale green in color. A sweet, almost mint-like flavor resounds on her tongue, trying to force her senses away from reality and back into an off fantasy. And then realization clicks within her a brain. A powerful memory of a lesson she had had in biology not even two days ago. Her left palm immediately flies over her mouth and nose, while the right slams against the secret hero's face as well. "Ow!" Terry cries out. "Damnit Max!"
"You'll thank me later! Don't breathe in the smoke."
"Smoke?" his muffled voice questions.
"That green smoke! It's a hallucinogen!"
McGinnis inhales sharply and grabs Max by the waist, carrying her towards the door and bursting through them and into the fresh air. The breeze flooding their nostrils was much welcomed as the hazy minds of the two best friends begins to clear. "Whoa," Max groans out, her body beginning to tilt over for the grass. Terry reaches out and steadies her. "How come you're not effected by the hallucinogen, Ter?" Max asks once the world stops spinning; laying face first on the cool concreted ground – the dizziness and slight nausea fading away.
"I am – just not as much as you. Bruce," he explains sheepishly, "believes in immunity to a lot of things."
"That old man is crazy."
"How'd you know though? Most of the kids were still pretty warped."
Gibson sits up slowly. "I'm a science geek remember? I've had my share of close calls. Besides, I never forget that smell. We covered that chemical in Biology a couple days ago."
"You know what it is? What it does?"
Max inhales slowly, looking out to the darkened street. Hallucination or not, she was still pretty much aware of what they had been doing moments before. But just as usual it was back to hero and sidekick talk. Terry's tone had already taken up the Batman voice. Right. "It's a new man made hallucinogen, newly discovered by our teacher. He mixed Psilocybin mushrooms with some kind of worm root to dilute the natural psychological side effects like: anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or paranoid delusions…though I will admit," she adds in strangely, "I'm feeling the depression right about now."
"So these sighohseebenee thingies get you high."
"Yes, but the form that professor created didn't get you up there. It was diluted to become a controlled substance. He said he would take the mushroom potency down a little more so the chemical could be used in anti-depressants. But the only way for the toxin to work it would have to be induced by some kind of heavy emotion. Hence, music. People feel things during music. The song was just a trigger for the chemical to really take its affect."
Terry, having listened to the conversation the whole time, steps out of the bushes wearing his Bat suit, and moving Max behind the concrete ledge so that they could avoid being seen. Beneath the cowl Terrence blushes: apparently he just couldn't keep his hands off her body. A plane soars overhead. "But why would that stuff be used during a dance?"
Max places her knuckles underneath her chin, trying to think. "I think you're asking the wrong question Batman. No one knew about this new drug except for the homeroom Biology class. Someone here in the school must have gotten their hands on it."
"But my question is still in play here Max."
"Not exactly. I've studied up on the ingredients within our professor's creation. There is a property within it that expands when met with heat. That's why it would work so well as a bodily drug. Our bodies are naturally warm. Someone used this in the school – but all the gathered student for the dance raised the temperature in the area, thus expanding the hallucinogen!" Batman smiles. It was good having a genius as a best friend.
And then a thought crosses his mind – an interesting notion – one that seemed superior even for his mind. "Max. As the drug is now, could it be used as a mental influence? Ya know, kinda like the Spellbinder thing but with less brain damage?"
"Most definitely. With the current amount of Psilocybin in the drug its more than enough to brainwash someone or force a certain belief on them. It could easily be used for a minor form of mind control rather than a new Mary Jane. What're you getting at?"
Batman stands upright. "We found out already that our school had a Jokerz member, who's to say there aren't more? And remember? The Jokerz have one person that they don't want to spill the beans on their boss."
Max gasps. "THE DISPATCHER!"
**** In the shadowy darkness of the biology room, only a hall away from the dance, a group of bodies surround a woman tied to a chair, her body slouched helplessly, her mind drifting as smoke surrounds her. A young scrawny Joker wearing large round glasses and blue face paint with a black nose and poorly drawn black teardrops dripping from the side of his eyes holds the flame near a liquid chemical in a vase, the smoke pouring out and towards the woman. His ripped gloves tremble in excitement. "The boss is gonna promote me for this. Head Geeker!"
Another Joker with tattered clothes draping his muscular body looks towards the door. "Hey Brain, the smoke is traveling out the door. There's a party going on down there what if someone notices it? This would all be for waste."
Brain scrunches his nose in disgust of the teen's idiocy – how dare he try to question the great Brain? "I told you to stop worrying about it! Once the smoke slides out the door and hits the cold air it'll dissipate into nothing! There won't even be a scent left. Now shut up."
The Joker growls. "You're getting a bit full of yourself nerd. Maybe you'd like to be full of my fist down your throat too?"
"Knock it off," a girl whispers. "The job is done. I say let's get out of here, drop little miss cop caller back off at her pedestal, and get on with the night."
Brain nods, looking towards another young Joker male standing beside the buffer one. "Well, since she's out of it," the other one states, "why not have some fun with her first? She is kinda beautiful."
The girl rolls her eyes. "Ugh. Fine, but if you do that I'm standing watch outside the door. And make it quick, you know my old man gets off in a couple hours. If I'm not home when he walks in the door I'm dead meat." She leaves and closes the door behind her, just as the men begin to crowd around the drugged woman lustfully. Their hands reach out for her shirt when a high pitched female grunt of pain explodes from outside the door, stopping the men in their tracks. "Chess?" Brain calls out.
"Sorry, but she's been checkmated." A shadow breaks into the room and the sound of screams of pain breakout from within the biology class until all grows quiet. When the door slides open out steps the Man of Vengeance, holding the frame of a lovely woman in his arms. He looks to the left, raising a brow at the form of Max leaning with crossed arms against the lockers – a smug look on her face, and the female Joker Chess sprawled on the floor beneath her, unconscious. "Max," Batman coos, "you're making me blush."
A flashlight appears down the hallway as the muscular gym teacher and some other school staff round the bend and shine the light on the young girl, Batman nowhere to be seen. "Gibson," the gym teacher calls, gasping at the figure lying on the ground.
"I was leaving from the bathroom," Max lies well, wearing a pitifully frightened face and clutching at her chest, "when I heard yells inside of there," she indicates, pointing to the bio room. "Then Batman showed up and saved me from her. It was Jokerz." She lets out a sob as the teachers' approach, the gym instructor wrapping his arm around her shoulder in comfort. Batman chuckles as he leaps out the window – she was a good liar after all.
****A week had come and gone and life was returning to normal. Dispatcher LeSean recovered quite well after some serious detoxifying and made it in time to testify against the Jokerz leader and even add an additional fourteen names to the list – all of whom were going to spend a nice amount of time behind bars. She was able to successfully return to her job, and even becoming romantically involved with the doctor who helped flush the Psilocybin from her system. Things appeared to be heating up quite nicely from that.
For Terry and Max however, things would never be as it was before. Even though there was a large possibility that the hallucinogen played a big role in their behavior that Halloween night it was still mentally blatant that they enjoyed it thoroughly; a truth that they couldn't ignore any longer. The last bell of the school day rings out in a loud blast as the students begin to file out of the building in a satisfied rush. Max adjusts her backpack and walks out the front door, looking out amongst the crowd for Chelsea in the refreshingly cool autumn breeze. The wind licked through her pink hair, feeling lovely against her jeans and her exposed arms. Gibson adjusts the straps on her short combat boots before spying an all too familiar figure leaning against a black motorcycle. Terry gazes at her and Max can't help but feel set up. Damn Chelsea! She'd have the blondie's ass.
Max walks slowly down the steps, approaching her best friend in caution. "Hey Max," he states once she stands in front of him, looking down nervously.
"Hi Ter," she blushes out. "Look, about that night on the dance floor. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you or anything. The hallucinogen must've really had me pegged and I-."
"Did you like it?" McGinnis interrupts with unreadable eyes. Max bites her lip, unable to respond. "Damnit Max, I played enough games with Dana. I need someone to be straightforward…please."
"I," Max sighs heavily, "loved it. Being that close to you like that." Her eyes shift slightly to the left. "I liked it so much it hurt."
Silence spreads between them as the student body continues to move about them. Terry looks away, slouching further into the motorcycle frame with an exhale. "Well, I guess we ought to do something about that then." Max gawks at him in confusion. "Max, if it were up to me, you would've been choice number one from the get go. But now I'm ready to give that a try. This may sound completely selfish but: I'm ready to be happy. I don't deserve you in the least bit but…"
"Shut up McGinnis." Max wraps her arms around his neck and brushes her lips against his light as a feather, allowing Terry to pull her in closer and share the passionate kiss in return. They pull apart, smiling at one another.
Terrence hands Max an extra helmet and mounts his bike with a broadened grin and gentleness in his eyes. "I'll take you home. You ready for this, Max?"
Maxine Gibson smiles with bright sincerity. "After all this time? I was born ready."