The house was populated with old men, their wives and children. The Hero League invited all the major players, the legends, including Pop Pop and Nana.
I'd admit that maybe I was a bit too craving of the recognition, but the repetitive praises became unbearable that I snuck back upstairs.
The breakthrough was expected. I've done everything in my power to meet the requirements to acquire that hero license.
A rap on the door forced me to hide dearest.
I recognized the air of demand attached to the voice and rolled my eyes. I opened the door and he brushed past me with his unique boyish swagger. I scoffed. He had the talent, but it was easy to see who was ahead.
I had overhead a few voices raising their doubts and concerns about his dedication to the career. The majority, to my annoyance, tattled religiously about the potential he had to surpass our father, a potential greater than my own.
I refused to acknowledge it but to be fair his records spoke for themselves. I was biased - not blind.
“What do you want?”
The certified document was in his hands. I was not surprised. His face was blank, uninterested, as he read the transcriptions.
“The privileges are not bad.”
“I expected that from you.”
He looked at me in a way that showed just how ridiculous he found my words to be.
“The risks involved beg to differ.”
He had a point, I realized – one I did not need to admit.
I took the license out of his hands and placed it back into the drawer. I wanted to be alone but I also didn’t want to be talking to myself.
Reluctantly, I leaned against the wall and proposed small talk to indulge my sanity.
“Kind of jealous it’s my night but you're the trending topic on everyone's lips.”
I didn’t have any problems confronting some of my demons. Max was an enigma in the hero society. His story had that zero to hero ingredient. It was interesting.
“You're moving into Headquarters?” he asked instead.
“I'm not supposed to share that information. Its confidential.” I replied, and after an eternity of staring at each other, my resolve crumbled. “It’s a private complex owned by the League but you can’t tell anyone.”
“Unlike you, I'm able to keep a secret.”
I bristled at the cold truth.
“I promise not to tell anyone then.”
A shred of silence crept in on around us. I noticed he was staring at my packed luggage on the other side of the room.
That tiny detail was significant - it was sinking in that by tomorrow we wouldn’t be sleeping under the same roof.
“They’ll probably assign you as the new Protector of Hiddenville. Think you're up for it?” It was a stupid question to ask. He was more than up for it.
“Too much trouble but I guess it’s worth the effort if I want to get that license any sooner.”
I knew him well enough not to find his reluctance sincere. He would take the mantle and make it his ambition to precede whatever grains of good influence my name had on the city.
Our ambitions were not mutually exclusive. We both wanted prestige.
It was a curse because in the pursuit of that unattainable perfection, I sacrificed a lot. Including friends, and my education which took a nosedive when it explicitly became clear I had no practical use for it considering my career path.
“The only downside is that you're constantly under supervision, even when you think no one is looking.”
“Are you serious?” he asked without looking at me, still enamored by my luggage.
“If you make..” I looked for the word. “undesirable decisions, you'll only hear of it at debriefing. It’s annoying but you learn to live with it.”
“Kind of takes the fun out of it.” he murmured.
“Don’t mistake me. You will have the liberty to do what you want and make your own choices, but you're old enough to know that certain actions have their consequences.”
“You're giving me advice.” his eyebrows were arched and his tone light, almost teasing.
“A heads up if anything.” I said airily, not denying his implications. “trust me, with your history, I can guarantee that they will be keeping a close eye on you.”
My bold lips parted for a smile. It was another cocktail of awkward putting our differences aside. I tried getting used to it but it never did come as easy as breathing down each other's necks.
“Anytime, Thunder Boy.”
His alias was not a subject to ridicule. I didn’t know if I said anything out of place because his face was torn between indecision, until ultimately, he brushed past me.
I felt inclined to follow with my eyes, my body rooted to the spot.
He turned the knob, but not before deeming me worthy of a last glance.
“You look great.”
My door clicked shut. I blinked and looked down at my dress – nothing remarkable, just a plain, white, strapless dress. I didn’t think of the proper reaction but those burdens on my shoulders associated with my leaving felt a little lighter.
I promised not to cry, but that battle was uphill and I wasn’t the favourite competitor to win.
I was on the verge of rushing upstairs to unpack my bags, jump on my bed, and wake up from this horrid dream.
Unfortunately, this was no dream.
My family stood before me with proud faces. I was an accomplice as we all skirted reality, or tried to.
I whimpered like a little girl as my father held me. Out of everyone, he was the last I wished to disappoint. He believed in me and devoted most of his time to make sure I polished my gifts.
I owed him everything.
“Surpass your old man. That’s all I ask.”
The crow’s feet bespoke that the time to pass on the torch had finally come knocking but his eyes were alert, exposing the sleeping legend.
Max didn’t move. His face was blank but the lingers of a ghostly frown was the item that prompted a coy smile to my face.
“Try not to be miserable without me.”
He tried not to look offended at my remark.
“Debatable, when you're the one close to tears.”
I shook my head, recognizing that trademark wit. He had a point. The corners of my vision were blurry as everyone else looked on, probably with bated breath.
I couldn’t blame them.
We lived like children - always arguing about anything and everything. Then we grew up to live like common acquaintances.
“Are you just going to stand there and pretend that you don't want to hug each other?”
Nora had the decency to look sheepish as my mother rounded on her, less than pleased with her thoughtless words. I brushed my eyes and opened my arms, pulling my unsuspecting brother into a tight embrace. To my disappointment, I did not feel his arms around my person. I pouted, and closed my eyes.
“Max, common courtesy. I raised you better than that.” My mother insisted sternly.
My heart shamelessly soared in victory as his arms found themselves around my midriff. We only had a handful of hugs and none of them were memorable.
I did attempt to confront my personal vices against him touching me and me remotely laying a finger on him outside of physical fits but I couldn’t quite place it.
It was not violating. It just felt foreign and admittedly a bit too intimate.
I sighed into the nook of his neck and shoulder.
One year was a really long time. I could occasionally pop in from time to time but I doubt it would be the same. The boss lady had made it clear that I’d have my work cut out for me.
I'll miss them, especially the troublemaker in my arms. I could deny it through my lips all I wanted but deep down the honesty was raw – I was indefinitely going to miss him the most.
He withdrew from me at the sound of a horn.
Billy, with great heart took it upon himself to take my luggage to the private vehicle. His swift movement tossed a bit of wind into my face; my eyes stung of fresh tears. The smirk on my twin's face indicated that he enjoyed seeing me vulnerable.
A devious smile quivered to my lips, I raised my chin and kissed him on the forehead. He tensed.
“Surpass your big sister. That’s all I ask.”
I heard a snicker from my father as I turned my back to them and hurried to the black car, doing my best to ignore the driver's frown as he held the door open for me.
“Max is blushing!”
“Shut it, Nora!”
I sat in the passenger seat and closed the door. They waved once more and filtered the backdoor and into the house. The tainted window rolled up and I pressed my palm against it. I wondered if he could see me or had anything other than promises of retribution for what I did in his head. I let loose a deep breath when I caught the glimpse of a smile. He turned away as the ignition burst to life.
Would he miss me?