Aftermath: Part 5

The police came twenty minutes later. Haley had to knock the guy out three more times while we were waiting for them. We’d moved him back into his room to keep him warm while we waited — not that it made the room much warmer. I’d broken his window when he jumped me.

We had to deal with predictable issues in the meantime. The man with the camera wouldn’t leave us alone. He hung around and asked questions until the police arrived.

By the time the police put the man who’d attacked us onto a stretcher and carried him off, his muscles had gone down to their normal size.

Haley and I walked back to the car.

“Do you want to drive?” I asked. “It’s your grandfather’s car.”

“No, go ahead,” she said. “I’ll be glad to warm up.”

I opened the car doors.

“Maybe we can find a coat for you or have one made. I don’t know. Something that doesn’t restrict your movements, but keeps you warm in the winter.”

We sat down and shut the doors. I started the car and turned on the heater, taking off my helmet. She pulled off her mask.

The clock on the dashboard said that the time was quarter after eleven. I hadn’t broken curfew so much as shattered it.

“Nick, can we talk?”

“Sure,” I said. I couldn’t imagine that my parents would be much more angry at 11:40 than they would have been at 11:20.

“I meant to tell you about the poison and everything, but I get worried,” she said.

“You don’t have to be,” I said. “There’s nothing to worry about. It’d be nice to have powers all the time. I’m stuck with whatever I happen to be wearing, and if it’s the wrong thing, I’m useless.”

“It’s not nice,” she said. “It didn’t bother me when I was little. The block kept me from showing it to people or talking about it, but that wore off in middle school — and that’s just when I started to really be able to change. After that, it was always there. I had to watch what I did, and not jump too high, or try too hard, or stand out.”

“The little marks where the claws come out never go away, and sometimes people ask about them,” she said. “I tell them it’s a birth defect.”

“I didn’t know you thought about it that way,” I said.

“I don’t all the time,” she said.

She went quiet for a few moments. “There was a gymnastics meet tonight. I heard it from Jenny. Not being involved this year I don’t think I’ve talked to her or anyone else on the team since the season started.”

I thought about what to say next. It seemed obvious that I ought to say something — ideally something comforting, but I drew a blank.

I put my hand on her shoulder.

She leaned into me and I let my arm go across her back.

We stayed that way for a while.

* * *

By the time I walked in the door, the clock said ten minutes before midnight. I hung up my coat in the closet and stepped into the kitchen, unsurprised to find my dad there with his laptop, but very surprised to find my mom walking down the stairs.

She usually went to bed by eleven.

“Oh, hi,” I said. “I’m really sorry I’m back so late. I kind of lost track of the time.”

“Nick,” Dad said, “where were you really? You weren’t answering your phone. I drove past Grandpa’s house and there were no lights on. I even called Daniel and he didn’t know where you were either. So where were you?”

“I must have turned off my phone,” I said. “I was watching TV with the lights off.”

“I knocked on the door,” he said. “I looked in the windows. You weren’t there. Don’t lie about it.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Your sister didn’t do this,” Mom said. “She always came home on time.”

Rachel had, but Rachel had also showed me how to get out the second story window of her room onto the veranda, and down the side of the porch. She wasn’t fighting crime, but she’d definitely done a better job keeping part of her life secret and below parental radar than I currently was.

Of course, I had one ace in the hole that she hadn’t. The question was, of course, whether it would work without Daniel’s dad calling ahead to give them a story.

“Actually,” I said, “I went out, got on Grandpa’s Rocket suit and helped catch someone for the FBI. If you turn on the CNN, you might even catch something about it.”

Dad looked puzzled. Then he said, “I must have missed you. We’ll allow it this once, but don’t let it happen again.”

Mom’s face was blank. “I think I need to go to bed,” she said and started up the stairs.

I grabbed my backpack from near the door, went upstairs to my own room and got ready for bed.

My cellphone rang as I pulled my pajama top over my head.

I grabbed the phone as quickly as I could, hoping neither parent had heard the phone ring.

“Nick,” Haley said, “you dropped me off too close to the house, and my parents saw the car. They wanted to know who owned it and where I’d been.”

“What did you tell them?”

“Nothing. I barely got a word in. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this angry.”

“Did you try to use the Mentalist’s block on them?” I asked. “It’s worth it.”

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