I jerked awake, my blankets slipping down my front as I sat up. Memories slid from my grasp as I tried to remember what I had been dreaming about. A yawn escaped my mouth as I reached for my phone and saw that it was 6 AM. No point going back to sleep now -- everyone would be getting up over the next hour anyways.
I swung my legs off my bed and stretched, rubbing the grit out my eyes. The potted plant next to my bed got their daily dose of water, then it was my turn to shower and pick out a fresh set of clothes (a gray tshirt and cargo shorts). By the time I was finished with that, the house was alive with sound. I made my way downstairs and found Mom cooking in the kitchen. She turned to me as I entered and smiled.
“Morning, Lisa,” she said. “Breakfast will be ready in five minutes or so.”
I nodded and peered at the stove, my stomach growling at the
smell of eggs and bacon that rose from its burners. “Want me
“Can you set the table?”
“Sure thing,” I replied.
I opened the fridge door and stared at the six-pack of Coors that sat in the center. Dad loved his beer and I wished I could just throw the stuff away. When he wasn’t boozed up, he was sweet and thoughtful. He would take me and Jake, my brother, to the old Toyota pickup in the garage and show us how the engine worked, or teach me how to replace a broken windshield wiper. I enjoyed tinkering with my hands and those were some of my fondest memories. I just wished he was sober more than one day a month -- if I was lucky.
Sometimes I wondered how Dad was able to keep his job as a mechanic down at the local auto repair shop. It probably helped that his boss, Jenkins, had been Dad’s drinking buddy for as long as I could remember. Besides, who was going to notice? Car repair didn’t exactly require him to talk to people.
I shook my head, pushing away my thoughts, and grabbed the carton of orange juice. Heavy footsteps came from behind me and I felt a rough hand on my shoulder, pushing me out of the way. I turned and saw Dad, his eyes bloodshot.
“Outta my way,” he rasped, grabbing a Coors from the fridge. He deftly popped the can open and took a swallow. “What’s for breakfast?”
Mom glanced at him and I left the kitchen as she responded. “Bacon and eggs,” she said. “Your favorite.”
He grunted and pushed past me. Droplets of beer splashed over the can’s rim as he thumped it down on the table and sat down. The food arrived a few minutes later and Dad tore into his plate, spraying spit and crumbs everywhere. I tried to hide my tension as he drank from his beer. Dad hated it when people acted nervous around him, although he never understood that he was to blame. Then again, Dad’s reaction to blame was similar to a politician’s: push it onto someone else.
I always wondered why Mom had married him, but I supposed he hadn’t always been like this. All I knew was the violent, drunken, deadbeat, but Mom must have seen something in him all those years ago. But she never talked about her life with me, or with anyone that I knew about. Dad didn’t like it when Mom had friends over and since he never allowed her to work, she didn’t have much chance to make new ones.
Jake walked into the room and paused at the doorway, surveying the scene. He gestured with his head at the beer can next to Dad and I nodded slightly. After breakfast, Dad would leave the house and if he was starting this early, he would probably pass out on the couch when he got home. If he ever got home, that was. It wasn’t uncommon for him to head out to the pub after work and end up blacked out in an alley somewhere. Perhaps tonight would be one of those lucky nights.
Dad reached for the newspaper in the middle of the table and his eating slowed down as he scanned it. I could see the headline “Blademaster Captures Angel Supervillain Mori Hanzo” across the top as he flipped it around to read the back. He glanced up and saw my gaze before I could look down.
“Goddamn specs got into another fight last night,” he grunted before taking a swig of beer. “I hope they kill each other off. The world’s got enough problems without those freaks causing trouble too.”
Uncomfortable silence greeted this statement as everyone tried to pretend nothing had happened. After a few seconds Dad lifted the can back to his lips and turned his attention back to the paper. For several minutes the only sound was that of chewing and clinking silverware. Silence was always the best policy where Dad was concerned. I glanced down at the circular burn scar on my hand and amended that thought. Unless he asks you a question.
The tension in my chest grew as I waited for the explosion that I knew was coming. Apparently I wasn’t the only one -- Mom came out of the kitchen halfway through the meal and gave Dad a fresh plate of eggs and bacon. She was too afraid of being the next one in line to do anything overt, but I had to admit she was pretty good at indirect peacemaking.
Jake finished his food and took his plate to the kitchen. I chewed quietly, listening as they talked.
“Hey, Mom,” Jake said. “I’m going to head out now.”
“Okay, be back before dark. Especially with the gangs and well…,” she trailed off, not wanting to articulate the thought. “Eight o’clock sharp, Jake.”
Jake left the kitchen and I wished he would slow down as he practically ran out the front door. Dad hated running. He said it was crude, which I thought was pretty ironic coming from him. Still, there was no point in tempting fate. But today was good. Dad was too absorbed by his newspaper to notice and for now at least, the devil was at peace.
I realized I was picking at my food and tried to hurry up. Dad would put down his newspaper sooner or later and when he did, he would look for any excuse to yell at me. Of course, I didn’t want to eat too fast since Dad was a firm believer in the chew ten times rule. It didn’t matter that his food was lucky to get chewed twice -- Dad was also a firm believer in “do as I say, not as I do.”
I finished and took my dishes to the sink, rinsing them off before putting them in the dishwasher. Dad stomped into the kitchen a few seconds later and gave the counter a critical glance.
“Clean this up,” he ordered. “I work my ass off all day, I shouldn’t have to live in such a pigsty.”
I bit my lip, trying not to say anything about how ridiculously unfair that was. The kitchen was clean, there were just a few dishes on the counter and the messy pans Mom had fried breakfast in.
I felt a surge of contempt as she nodded and picked up a cloth. “I’ll get right on it.”
Always so obedient and submissive, that was Mom. One of these days she was going to have to grow a backbone and stand up for herself. But not today -- Dad stared at her for a few seconds, then turned and left, shoving me out of the way as he did so. I heard the jingle of keys, then the slam of the front door.
I sagged against the counter as the tension drained out of my muscles. Then I stood up and approached Mom. It was time to make my exit as well.
“Hey, I’m going to go to the library,” I said. “There’s this book I’ve been dying to read.”
She smiled in a slightly sad sort of way and gave me a hug. “That’s my Lisa, always eager to learn something new,” she said. “Be back before dark, okay?”
I agreed and ran upstairs, throwing on my leather motorcycle jacket and stuffing a few dollar bills in its pocket. I didn’t own a motorcycle but I liked the look and besides, it made people treat me less like a girl and more like someone who could take care of themself. Not that I had that problem with anyone who knew me -- my first day in high school, a girl named Melissa had tried picking on me.
I grinned, remembering how quickly that had ended once I gave her a bloody nose. Since then, I had done my best to stay out of fights, but sometimes people didn’t give you a choice. And I certainly wasn’t going to lie down and just let them walk all over me. My mom had shown me what happened when you did that. So what if I had a reputation for being a bitch and a hardass? The important thing was that people left me alone and didn’t make fun of me for reading and learning.
Gravel crunched under my feet as I left the house and walked down the driveway. Even though it was early in the morning, I could already see the asphalt starting to shimmer from the heat. It was the summer and Aquila City felt like an oven. Our house didn’t even have air conditioning, which was part of the reason I liked to visit the library.
A girl with long blond hair was already waiting at the bus stop and she gave me a disdainful look as I approached. I returned her sneer with one of my own -- she might be the pinnacle of fashion right now, but that long, silky hair would be a sticky, sweaty mess by the time night fell. My own hair was in a pixie cut, short enough that it never got in my eyes or stuck to my skin.
The bus pulled up and I bought a ticket from the driver before making my way to the back and sitting down by a window. My house wasn’t in the slums proper -- the buses didn’t serve that part of town -- but I lived on their edge and the library was on the other side of Aquila, near the industrial district. I knew from experience that the bus would take about an hour to get there.
I leaned against the glass and watched the landscape roll past. The stalls and tiny shops of the Bazaar gave way to wider streets as we entered the heart of town, filled with shiny corporate offices and massive apartment buildings. Towering above them all like a titan among puppies was a faceless cylinder made from a dull golden alloy that glittered in the rising sun.
The building was known simply as the Vault and it was the Wardens’ base of operations. The Wardens lived at the top, the apprentice Guardians a few stories lower, and most of the middle was dedicated to PCD barracks. Underneath the Vault was a supervillain prison, designed to be resistant to most common powers such as pyrokinesis or super strength.
The Vault fell behind as the bus left upper downtown. The glass, steel, and other fancy buildings disappeared, replaced by a seedier look of weathered brick and dirty windows. Whereas the classier areas of Aquila were patrolled by PCD officers and the occasional superhero, this area had a distinct lack of guards wandering the streets or standing at corners. The Wardens simply didn’t have enough manpower to have an active presence across the entire city.
When I had been little, I had dreamed of getting superpowers of my own. Then I could stand up to my dad and show him how it felt to live in constant fear of his fists. But after almost eighteen years, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Whatever mechanism was behind superpowers -- and there were plenty of theories -- it had clearly passed me by. I was just a normal teenage girl and that was all I would ever be.