Deeper In: Part 3

“I guess,” I said. “I think she’s on our side, but she kind of tricked me into doing what she wanted. I think I’d have been just as uncomfortable with having people think I was cheating on Haley if I’d known she was setting that up. She could have asked me.”

Vaughn glanced right and moved his car into the right lane, roaring past the three cars that had been ahead of us, hitting close to ninety miles per hour as he did it.

On a Saturday morning, the freeway would have been almost empty, but this was Friday around 7 pm in the middle of the city during one of the last weekends of summer.

There were cars—not as many as rush hour, but more than Saturday morning. Vaughn weaved back into the middle lane and I reminded myself that he’d only ever crashed cars when he was drinking and driving.

It wasn’t much of a comfort.

Letting the car slow to a speed that wasn’t as far over the speed limit, Vaughn glanced over at me. “I don’t know, this way you’re more upset when they ask you because you’re thinking about how she did it. It might have been the best way to get what she wanted. I don’t know that it was the right way to do it because you’re less likely to trust her now. But you also don’t have much of a choice because you both want to keep the artifacts away from the Nine.”

I sighed. He wasn’t wrong. “Did you learn anything? You ended up stuck with a bunch of executives plus your uncle and your mom. Any hints that make you think he’s dealing with the Nine?”

Vaughn snorted. “Not a chance. I’m sure he’s on his best behavior in front of all those guys—not to mention my mom. They didn’t hint at any mysterious program or client or anything like they would in a movie. I’d have been on that.

“No. It was just like getting stuck at home when my parents had board members over for dinner. Everyone’s trying to impress everyone or they’re talking about the business or maybe they decide to make points with my parents by asking me a couple of condescending questions… You know what I mean.”

I didn’t. My dad did a mixture of writing parenting books, teaching, and counseling children and teens. My mom marketed his books. We never had anyone like that over.

I looked over at him. “No. Well… Sometimes my grandfather would bring me along when he visited supers he was designing devices for. If I was lucky, they had kids my age. If I wasn’t, everyone talked over me.”

Vaughn nodded. “That’s pretty much what I was going for. But yeah, there are no leads from my end unless they’re more subtle than I’m noticing. Maybe I should look at the money we give Higher Ground and what we get out of it. We might get stuff unofficially. The cool thing is that you being there gives me an excuse to ask.”

Not sure how to say, “Please don’t ask in a way that gets them thinking about me,” I responded with, “Good luck.”

Frowning, Vaughn said, “Yeah. I’m going to have to be careful how I do it.”

It didn’t take much longer than that for us to get back to my house. As we pulled up in front of the hundred-year-old bungalow I’d inherited from my grandparents, Vaughn asked, “Do you mind if I park it in the garage?”

“No problem. It’s not a bad neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were worth as much as my house.”

Vaughn pulled up the driveway and I triggered the garage door opener from my stealth suit.

Taking a look at the old, white-painted house, Vaughn said, “Maybe twice the cost.”

It was a Porsche, after all.

We went inside to find Jeremy waiting for us in the living room. “So, what are we doing?”

I stopped walking. “Nothing special—just hanging around. I think we’ll get pizza and watch a movie.”

He closed his laptop and put it in his backpack. “If I’d ever been told that I’d spend a Friday night hanging around with the Heroes’ League, that wouldn’t be what I expected.”

As he slung the backpack over his shoulder, I said, “I’m happy to surprise you, I guess?”

Jeremy took a step toward the back of the house. “It sounds more like a cheap date or a class party in middle school.”

Vaughn cocked his head. “I could see that.”

We headed to grandfather’s workroom. He’d hidden the elevator in the floor. We took it one at a time. It was slower but less awkward.

By the time I got downstairs, Tara, Vaughn, Jeremy, Amy, and Kayla were sitting around the table grabbing plates or eating. Tiger sat at attention, his tail twitching and eyeing the table, clearly calculating his chances for getting pizza.

All the pizza boxes showed the stylized “D” that marked them as coming from D’Onofrio’s, Haley’s family’s restaurants. By comparison to other movie nights, the number of people was disappointing, but I didn’t have time to think about it. Haley met me as I stepped out.

“Hey,” she said, grinning at me.

I know it’s a cliche, but it did feel like my heart melted—not that it had anything to do with my heart. I felt good because I knew she was happy to see me and I didn’t have to keep my guard up as I had all day.

We held each other. Then as we let go, she said, “What all happened today?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know if you heard anything from Vaughn, but it was weird—”

As I began to talk, the whole day’s memories flooded my head.

Haley’s eyes narrowed, “What did Stephanie do?”

13 thoughts on “Deeper In: Part 3”

    1. I think you’d have to ask the artist on that one. My guess is that it would be something along the lines of “added texture” or “that section of costume needed something.” Maybe it was there to suggest armor or padding?

      I never asked.

  1. And the end there is why I think Nick and Haley deserve to be together. Happy to see each other and in a few words she knows something that concerns him happened. She trusts Nick explicitly and can read what can bother him like no one else. In many ways they act married.
    Look at Nick’s grandparents. His grandfather was a tech and kind man. Who had his issues. (I noted the dreams of drowning) His grandmother was mostly unlike him. Not technical, not locked onto the past. But she cared about him and knew things even he did not recognize. Like she knew he needed to get back into the suit and be a hero. Why? “Because normal people do not build lairs beneath their houses.”

    That is Nick and Haley. And it was beautifully summarized with a hug and a question.

  2. It occurs to me that I forgot something when I said that Haley would take things calmly. Yes, she trusts Nick, and isn’t going to be angry at him… But Stephanie doesn’t enjoy that trust. Especially after the Turkmenistan thing.

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