I woke to the muffled sound of the radio in the bathroom. Reaching over to my alarm clock, I turned it around. 6:28. Which made today a weekday like any other. My alarm was set for six thirty, but I almost never needed it, because my dad was always in the shower at the same time. Routines defined us.
As a wave of fatigue swept over me, I wondered if I might be sick. It took me a few moments of staring up at the ceiling to remember the events of last night. Small wonder I was tired. I had gotten home, snuck inside and gone to bed at close to three thirty, just three hours ago. With all that had happened, I hadn’t slept those full three hours, either.
I forced myself out of bed. As a slave to my routine, it would be wrong to do otherwise. I made myself change into sweats and walk down to the kitchen sink to wash my face, fighting to keep awake. I was sitting at the kitchen table, pulling on my sneakers, when my dad came downstairs in his bathrobe.
My dad is not what you’d call an attractive man. Beanpole thin, weak chin, thinning dark hair that was on the cusp of baldness, big eyes and glasses that magnified those eyes further. As he entered the kitchen, he looked surprised to see me there. That’s just the way my dad always looked: constantly bewildered. That, and a little defeated.
“Good morning, kiddo,” he said, entering the kitchen and leaning down to kiss the crown of my head.
He was already stepping towards the fridge as I replied. He looked over his shoulder, “A little glum?”
“You sound down,” he said.
I shook my head, “Tired. I didn’t sleep well.”
There was the slap of bacon hitting the frying pan. It was sizzling by the time he spoke, “You know, you could go back to bed, sleep in for another hour or so. You don’t have to go on your run.”
I smiled. It was equal parts annoying and sweet, that my dad hated me running. He worried about my safety, and couldn’t turn down a chance to drop hints that I should stop, or be safer, or join a gym. I wasn’t sure if he’d worry more or less if I told him about my powers.
“You know I do, dad. If I don’t go today, it’ll be that much harder to make myself get up and do it tomorrow.”
“You’ve got the, uh…”
“I’ve got the tube of pepper spray in my pocket,” I said. He bobbed his head in acknowledgement. It was only moments later that I realized I didn’t have it. The pepper spray was with my costume, in the coal chute in the basement. I felt a pang of guilt at realizing I’d lied to my dad.
“O.J.?” he asked.
“I’ll get it,” I said, heading to the fridge for the orange juice. While I was at the fridge, I also grabbed some applesauce. As I returned to the table, my dad slapped some french toast on the frying pan to join the bacon. The room filled with the aroma of the cooking food. I helped myself to the applesauce.
“You know Gerry?” my dad asked.
“You met him once or twice when you’ve visited me at work. Big guy, burly, Black Irish?”
Shrugging again, I took a bite of french toast. My dad was part of the Dockworkers Association, as the Union spokesperson and head of hiring. With the state of the Docks being what they were, that meant my dad was pretty much in charge of telling everyone that there were no jobs to be had, day after day.
“Rumor’s going around he found work. Guess with who.”
“Dunno,” I said, around a mouthful of food.
“He’s going to be one of Über and Leet’s henchmen.”
I raised my eyebrows. Über and Leet were local villains with a video game theme. They were pretty much as incompetent as villains could be while staying out of jail. They barely even rated as B-list.
“They going to make him wear a uniform? Bright primary colors, Tron style?”
My dad chuckled, “Probably.”
“We’re supposed to talk about how the powers thing has influenced our lives in class today. Maybe I’ll mention that.”
We ate in silence for a minute or two.
“I heard you come in late last night,” he said.
I just gave him a small nod and took another bite of french toast, even as my heart rate tripled and my mind searched for excuses.
“Like I said,” I finally opened my mouth, looking down at my plate, “I just couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get my thoughts to settle down. I got out of bed and tried pacing, but it didn’t help, so I stepped outside and walked around the neighborhood.” I wasn’t totally lying. I’d had nights like that. Last night just hadn’t been one of them, and I had gone walking around the neighborhood, even if it was in a different way than I’d implied.
“Christ, Taylor,” my father answered, “This isn’t the kind of area where you can walk around in the middle of the night.”
“I had the pepper spray,” I protested, lamely. That wasn’t a lie, at least.
“What if you get caught off guard? What if the guy has a knife, or a gun?” my father asked.
Or pyrokinesis and the ability to grow armor plating and claws? I felt a little knot of ugliness in the pit of my stomach at my father’s concern for me. It was all the more intense because it was so justified. I had almost died last night.
“What’s going on, that has you so anxious you can’t sleep?” he questioned me.
“School,” I said, swallowing around a lump in my throat, “Friends, the lack thereof.”
“It’s not better?” he asked, carefully stepping around the elephant in the room, the bullies.
If it was, I wouldn’t be having problems, would I? I just gave him a one shoulder shrug and forced myself to take another bite of french toast. My shoulder twinged a little as it made the bruises from last night felt. As much as I didn’t feel like eating, I knew my stomach would be growling at me before lunch if I didn’t. That was even without accounting for the energy I burned running, let alone the escapades of last night.
When my dad realized I didn’t have an answer for him, he resumed eating. He only had one bite before he put his fork down again with a clink on the plate.
“No more going out in the middle of the night,” he said, “Or I’m putting a bell on the doors.”
He would, too. I just nodded and promised myself I would be more careful. When I had come in, I had been so tired and sore that I hadn’t given any thought to the click of the door, the rattle of the lock or the creaks of floorboards that were older than me.
“Okay,” I said, adding, “I’m sorry.” Even with that, I felt a twinge of guilt. My apology was sincere in feeling, but I was making it with the knowledge that I would probably do the same thing again. It felt wrong.
He gave me a smile that seemed almost like an unspoken ‘I’m sorry too’.
I finished off my plate and stood up to put it in the sink and run water over it.
“Going on your run?”
“Yeah,” I said, put my dishes in the beaten up old dishwasher and bent down to give my dad a hug on my way to the door.
“Taylor, have you been smoking?”
I shook my head.
“Your hair is, uh, burnt. At the ends, there.”
I thought back to the previous night. Getting hit in the back by one of Lung’s blasts of flame.
Shrugging, I suggested, “Stove, maybe?”
“Be safe,” my dad said, emphasizing each word. I took that as my cue to go, heading out the side door and breaking into an all out run the moment I was past the chain link gate at the side of the house.