Haley said, “No.” Then she stood up to pick up her shoes from where they had fallen. She’d obviously been in a hurry. One lay next to the bench. The other hung from a bush about two feet away from the bench.
Her ears looked a little red around the edges.
Well, at least they hadn’t caught us in the middle of anything.
Diva’s smile hinted that she likely understood what they’d interrupted. She didn’t let the moment stretch into an embarrassing silence though. She said, “Pardon me, but are you Nick?”
“Um… Yeah.” I wouldn’t have chosen to tell her that.
She walked closer to the bench with her son following a little behind and looking uncomfortable.
“We’ve met before,” she said. “I had your grandfather do some work for me.”
All at once I did remember her. I’d only been eight, but I already had a sense that Grandpa found her frustrating. She’d needed storage containers that could keep food fresh. Her power involved creating biological organisms out of nowhere, but they needed food to grow, and not every place had enough food. She wanted containers that kept a lot of food fresh and hidden.
The way I remembered it, she couldn’t seem to understand how the two goals conflicted with each other. In the end, Grandpa had actually shouted at her, telling her that she needed a wizard not an engineer.
I never found out what she’d done. Hoping that very little of what I remembered showed on my face, I said, “I don’t remember much of that. I think I was eight.”
She said, “No, you wouldn’t, but it’s good to meet you again. This is Hunter, my son, and Hunter, this is Nick, the current Rocket.”
It wasn’t likely that she could remember my name and not guess that I was the Rocket, but there went any hope that she’d missed it.
Haley, now with her shoes on, managed to say, “And I’m Haley.” Then she added, “Night Cat.”
Diva gave a small nod. “I remember Night Wolf. I never met him outside the mask, but he was an impressive fighter. It’s good to meet you too. I’d—” she began.
Then she pulled her cell phone out of her purse. “I’m sorry. Back in a sec.”
She retreated, stopping past the trees around our bench, holding her phone to her ear.
Hunter glanced back at her, shook his head, and turned toward us. “I’m sorry. She does this a lot. You don’t have to wait for her. If you want to leave, I can keep her out of your hair.”
Haley shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. Is this your first year?”
He nodded. “What about you?”
“Me too.” She seemed genuinely excited about it.
“It’s my second year,” I said.
Hunter grinned. “I guessed. You were all over TV this spring.”
I thought back to New York. I supposed I’d also been on TV for the robots we’d fought after visiting Chicago, and then of course there was St. Louis. I wasn’t sure if that counted as spring though. In Grand Lake, it had definitely been winter.
I shrugged. “I didn’t try to be.”
“Doesn’t matter. You got a lot of attention. It’s most of the reason the crowd’s this big this year.”
That seemed unlikely. The Heroes League had gotten a lot of attention in the last couple years. It wasn’t just me.
Responding to whatever expression I wore, he said, “I’m not saying it was all you personally. Think ‘you’ as in the whole program. Stapledon hasn’t been real popular with people in the cape community. A lot of them see it as way to gain control of the super community—kind of like that program where they give some supers access to federal criminal databases.”
I didn’t know what to say. No one has said anything like that to me. I glanced over at Haley. Her eyes were a little wider that usual.
“Most people I knew didn’t have much use for it, but once New York came around and you guys were fighting aliens and winning? My mom decided I had to attend. A lot of my friends came around too. Though it didn’t hurt that the Defenders and the Feds really turned up the recruiting after New York.”
“Wait,” I said. “Who’s against Stapledon? I don’t know anybody who has a problem with it.”
“You’re mostly friends with kids whose parents are in Defenders units. They’re not government, but they’re close. My friends are kids of vigilantes, indie hero groups, and people who left cape life altogether. You’re going to think this sounds crazy, but some of them are angry with you.”
I felt my jaw drop a little, and I said, “What? I don’t even know them.”
At the same time, Haley said, “Seriously?”
Hunter glanced back at his mother taking on her phone, frowned and turned back to us. “I know it’s stupid, but some of my friends won the lottery when it comes to powers, and they’ve been assuming they’d be big deals. They totally forgot about the Heroes League, and you showed up and started people fighting the Cabal, you’ve stayed in the news. No one’s had a chance to forget you. They feel like they’re battling to be afterthoughts now.”
I let out a breath. “That’s dumb.”
Hunter put his hands in his pockets. “I’m not arguing with you. I think it’s the old indie vs. establishment thing. Plus, some of my friends might think they’re better than they are.”
In the background, Diva hung up her phone and put it in her purse.
Hunter must have noticed that we were looking, turned, and saw her too. He said, “It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, but it is embarrassing when she pulls this crap. I’m going to get her out of here. See you in class.”
He met her before she made it back to us. She gave a wave, and they walked away.
Haley and I both sat silently for a little while. I don’t know what she was thinking, but I needed a second to take all of it in.
Haley broke the silence with, “Did you notice that she faked the phone call? She pretended to take a call, but then she called her agent after she walked away.”