by Lilian Colby
Home is where the heart is.
45 minutes later
We finally arrived home around 6:30 A.M. and I brought all of my things into my room. Dad sort of just crept off, I'm assuming to his room to pass out of exhaustion. I turned on my two bedside lamps, and the lampshade had the New York skyline on them. They lit up my room with a warm and loving glow, a dim, pale yellow emitting from them. I wasn’t very used to this, because I had been on the helicarrier for so long so often, with the harsh white light beating down on my eyes. I put my duffle bag on my bed and began going through it, taking out all of my clothes and sorting out clean from dirty. The dirty clothes found their way to a small pile on the floor at the foot of my bed, and the clean clothes were in a neat stack of folded clothes. I took my duffle bag and put it under the foot of my bag, and put all my dirty clothes in my laundry hamper. I then brought all of my clean clothes and hung them up in my armoire. When I closed the door, the mirror had a reflection that still made the hairs of my neck stand up. In the reflection was someone I did not recognize. The reflection was me, but not me. My hair was bleached white, and my eyes were more blue than the oceanic coast of Puerto Rico. I was mortified, because this was what I was going to look like for the rest of my lifetime. I took my hair out of the now dry bun, and let it fall down over my shoulders. My white hair stood out like a piece of white paper taped to a black wall. I let out a small whimper, and quickly looked away. I had to do something with my hair, but i had no idea. There was no way I was going to let-
“Reuben?” I heard James call out before I could finish my thought.
Great, now I have to be mortified and let James see me like, well, this. Slowly, I walked to my bedroom door, and opened it half way.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Hey, how are you feeling?”
“Well, I don’t need your pity party if that’s what you came here for.”
“No, I came to talk to you like a friend would after someone nearly died twice within one week. May I come in?”
Honestly, I was kind of relieved James came to my room, better to let him see me like this personally than in front of everyone. I walked over and sat at the foot of my bed, and lied down on my back with my legs dangling off. James sat next to my, but he sat down very gingerly, as if I was a piece of glass and if he sat down too quickly I would shatter.
“Reuben, I guess we both have something in common for this week.”
“And just what might that be?”
“We both died in the same week….”
I didn’t know how to respond. I had completely forgotten that James died. I sat up so quickly that I startled James and he went into the defensive.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
His body relaxed a little, but I could tell he was ready to jump at anything that came into the room uninvited.
“Reuben, I just wanted to thank you…. for saving my life.”
“You did the same thing for me. When I was barely alive, I kind of teleported. Not physically, but mentally. I felt everyone’s feelings. But yours stuck out the most. James, when you thought I was dead, the first thing that came to your mind was despair and agony. And I felt that, James. When I heard you scream out, I knew you had died, and it was like a part of me died with you. That’s why I didn’t use my powers against skull. I only had enough energy left to defeat him, and I guess what ran through my mind was-”
“If you had enough energy to defeat Skull, that you would have enough energy to bring someone back from the dead. Reuben, you could have died. You sacrificed yourself just to save me. That was probably the most idiotic thing you could have done, and I just wanted to thank you.”
He brought his hand to the side of my face and wiped away the tear that had unknowingly escaped from me. Then he did the one thing that I’ve wanted to do since that day on the helicarrier when he comforted me. He leaned in and kissed me so softly and gingerly, and I knew that living with dad was going to be a little complicated after this. He pulled his lips away from mine, and wrapped his arms around me. I just buried my face in the cric of his neck and brought my knees up to my chest and let him comfort me. I think that really, we were comforting eachother. After about fifteen minutes, I felt my stomach growl, and I guess that James heard it as well.
“When was the last time you’ve eaten normal food?” He asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine.” I said in response.
He unwrapped his arms and looked at my pillows.
“What is that?” He asked.
“What?” I looked to his line of site and saw something tiny wrapped in wrapping paper that said happy birthday all over it. On a little card it said Love dad in his familiar chicken scratch.
“My birthday present I guess.”
“It’s been a week since you turned eighteen. Well how long has it been since you turned eighteen?”
“Well, happy birthday.”
“You as well.”
“I guess that kiss was my birthday present.” I said jokingly.
“I guess so. Where’s mine?” He said and winked at me.
“I don’t know go find it.” I said laughing. I then cupped his face and kissed him, but not so gingerly. More of like a normal kiss and less of a smooch.
We both laughed and then I crawled up my bed and grabbed the present and card. I opened the card like the abnormal kid I was, and it said ‘Happy 18th Birthday” in big cursive letters. I opened it to find a credit card and numbers written on the bottom.
“4309” I read aloud.
“The pin number, maybe?”
“I guess so, but what does dad expect me to do with a credit card, go on shopping sprees?” I said with a slightly sarcastic tone.
“I mean, I guess that’s what he expects. Although I’m pretty sure you aren’t that shallow.”
“No, I’m not one who’s thrilled to go out and spend my “daddy’s money” on pointless things that I’ll never even wear. I guess that I’ll just keep it as an emergency kind of thing.”
“Well, I’m gunna go a make us some eggs and toast. I’ll text you when it’s ready.”
“Okie dokie.” I say in response.
“Haha, you’re cute.”
“I know.” I say winking at him.
He closes the door and I stare at the wrapped gift dad left for me. I unwrap it, expecting it to be something ridiculously cheesy like a diamond necklace or a bracelet that said dad on it or something. Instead, I found the very locket I bought when I was a child, the one I left with my dad and told him would keep him safe. In this locket, there was a picture of dad and I, and a picture of Uncle Rhodie and I. At the sight of this, I was brought to tears. This reminded me of how much had happened with Dad in the past few days, and how ungrateful I had been. Dad was always there for me, whether I knew it or not. He kept tabs on me, he would call mom and ask her what’s been going on and how I was doing with school. This very locket made me realize how selfish I had been, and I had to do something about it. Just when I stood up, James texted me telling me breakfast was ready. I texted him back and said ‘Okay, I’m going to see Dad really quick and I’ll be right there.’ I went to my closet and grabbed my jacket that I got as a going away gift from my fire department in Greenbow that had the maltese cross and Greenbow Fire Department embroidered over my hear. The shoulders and arms were a grey, and the bottom part of the jacket was navy blue. I walked out of my room and went to dads room. I knocked on the door and dad opened it. When I saw dad, it was as if a well of guilt had been filling up with water, and it just began gushing out water. I just began to cry and dad just wrapped me up in his arms and stroked my hair.
“Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay” He just kept on repeating that over and over. Strangely enough, it was more comforting than it was annoying. I began to get a headache, and I was obviously dehydrated from all this crying. I told him I was sorry, and went into the kitchen. There, everyone but Dad was sitting at the table eating. As soon as I got inside the doorway everyone stopped in their tracks, and before I knew it, all attention was on me. Like an awkward potatoe, I stood there in the doorway.
“Hey Reuben, there’s a plate for you right here.” Steve said and gestured that I sit in between Kyle and James.
“Okay, thank you.”
Wow, Steve really knew how to handle awkward situations. I should start calling him Captain Un-awkward. Haha, Captain Un-awkward, I’m such a dork, but I don’t care. I sat next to James and Kyle, and I let my hunger get the best of me. Apparently, I was very hungry because I feel like I ate my food in seconds. I got up and washed my dishes and put them away, then I went into my room. I figured that it should be light out by now, so I pulled up my shades and let all the light shine into my room. I turned off my bedside lamps, and grabbed my satchel. I pulled out my macbook and plugged it in. I opened the screen to the familiar picture of Jackson and I. This picture was taken the same day as the family photo, and this is my favorite picture of us to this day. I was crouching and jackson was standing up straight in front of me. We were looking straight at each other and were screaming, both of our hands were out to the side. We were basically a mirror image of each other. The photo was taken from a side view, and was filtered to we were in color, and everything else was in black and white. These pictures were a few years old. I would say we needed to update them, but that would mean without mom. I logged in, and almost as soon as I did that, Jackson was calling me to FaceTime. Of course, I answered without hesitation.
“Where have you been?”
“I’ve been at work, sorry I haven’t been on in a while dude.”
“It’s okay, Happy Birthday! I would’ve told you on your birthday but you were working. When are you coming back home? I miss you sissy!”
“I miss you too dude, I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I know I’ll be there for your birthday!”
“Of course I did, you’re my little brother, that’s what I’m supposed to do. How about we make a deal, You get to come up here for your birthday, and we spend all day together, doing whatever you want.”
“But what about you sissy, we still need to celebrate your birthday.”
“Don’t worry about me, it’s your day. My day has come and gone, so you have nothing to worry about!”
“No sissy, we are still going to celebrate your birthday, whether you like it or not!”
“Okay, how about the day after we celebrate my birthday then.”
“OKAY!! Sissy, where’s Mommy?”
The sudden question caught me off guard, and left me practically speechless. Like an idiot, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“She’s on vacation.”
“What’s a vacation?”
“Where you go somewhere and you never come back.”
“You are never going on a vacation! I won’t let you!”
“Okay, no vacation for me, ever.”
“I swear on Bun Bun.”
“Okay, well I gotta go to school, bye sissy, love you!”
“Love you too dude, see you soon.”
I let him hang up to make sure he didn’t have anything else to say, and I went on to Facebook. There, I had about five notifications and twenty messages from Scott. I didn’t even bother to read them, I just closed out of Facebook and called him on my phone. Without hesitation, Scott picked up.
“Where are you?” He asked.
“Home, where are you?”
“Well, I was pacing back and forth worrying about you. I’m at work.”
“Well, you no longer need to worry.”
“I know that.”
“Well, I’ve got some juice for you, but I swear if you tell anyone I will cut you.”
“Alright, I swear not to tell anyone.”
“James kissed me.”
“WHAT!?!? When? Girl, why didn’t you tell me this earlier.”
“Well, it happened just this morning so I am telling you now.”
“Oh, man. I have to go, but I’ll talk to you later.”
Ugh, I have socialized more than I ever have in my life in this past hour. I need a break. I pulled my headphones out of my pocket and plugged them into my phone. I decided to go a little old and put on Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. I grabbed my sketchbook, pencil, and rag and just let my hand and mind do what they wanted to draw. Within this time, I must have blacked out, because I drew my mother with her skin burned and flames raging behind her. Mortified by what I had unknowingly drawn, I threw my sketchbook against a wall aggressively. By now, it was One O’Clock, so i turned off my music which was now on Back in Black by AC/DC and shoved my headphones into my pocket. Somehow, within this time I kicked off my converse. I proceeded to put them back on, and went to my window. The fact that I could see the whole city from my bedroom was still hard to get used to. At night, the city is so beautiful, lit with life and joy. This place was definitely not anywhere near Greenbow and what it felt like, but it was something that I could get used to. I walked away from my window and walked out of my room. Back into the world I go. I looked at my phone and checked the weather. It was seventy nine degrees outside. I guess I better change, because roasting my insides is not something that I plan on doing any time soon. I went into the bottom drawers of my armoire and found a pair of dark wash shorts from Hollister and one of my Black Sabbath tank tops. It was a black racer back with the purple lettering from one of their albums. I put my hair up into a ponytail, and put my converse back on. I made sure that my bra straps were clipped together and hidden between the small back of my shirt. I went into my bathroom to once again look into the mirror and see the ghost of myself. My skin was super pale, and I had dark circles under my eyes. Jeez, I don’t know how long it’s been since I saw the light of day, but I guess too long. I rummaged through my drawers, and thankfully, I still had foundation left. I wouldn’t usually wear foundation, but in an emergency like this where I’m going out in public, I’d rather not look like a vampire. I applied my foundation and looked normal once again, and then put on eyeliner and mascara. Nothing crazy, just a basic outline. I proceeded with getting ready, grabbing my phone, wallet, and car keys. I grabbed the card that dad gave me and put it in my wallet, and put on my locket. I walked out of my room, and just casually walked to the living area of the seemingly endless condo. Of course, there everyone was, sitting and socializing. I casually walked down the stairs, and before I could slip out without a trace, Dad caught me.
“So you got my present, huh? Do you like it?”
“Of course I do dad, I’m the one who bought it.”
“Well, I just wanted to be sure, and you didn’t have pictures in it.”
“You have a good point there. Haha.”
“So, where are you going?”
“To see how much the world has changed since my recent festivities.”
“Alright, you have your communication card on you, right?”
“That and my phone. Don’t worry dad, I’ll be fine.”
“Well of course I’m going to worry about you, apparently you are the villains most wanted teenager. And you’re my daughter. It’s my job to worry.”
I hugged him and kissed his cheek.
“I love you too dad.”
I walked into the elevator and decided I was going to the mail room to see if my transfer form has come through. Just as I had hoped, it did, and I also had a letter from my new cap, giving me all of his contact information. I sifted through my mail and found a letter from my fire department in Greenbow. It was a photo of me and all of the department members in our turnout gear standing in front of engine one. I brought all of my mail down with me to the garage and put it in the glove box of my car. I put the key in the ignition, and listened to the engine roar to life. I began my trip over the the fire station that I was now a member of. I pulled into the small lot for visitors to park and walked as casually as I could into the station. The first firefighter I came across was a proby, so I asked him where the chiefs office was. He definitely was new because he had no idea what he was telling me. In other words, I kind of just meandered my way to his office with the unclear instructions. I knocked on the door and what seemed like the voice of God, the chief said to enter. I guess he must have recognized my face, because he stood up as soon as he saw me.
“Reuben Stark. I’ve been waiting to meet you.”
“It’s an honor to finally meet you, sir.”
“Please, have a seat.”
“So, you are now eighteen years old, meaning you will now be treated like an official firefighter. However, you will not be considered a proby. You have been in the emergency services since you were fourteen years of age. Welcome to your new family.”
“Thank you, sir. I am available any time, because this is literally my only job.”
“Great, we have already gotten you some gear to try on. Lieutenant Casey is waiting for you downstairs. Your first shift is Saturday at 8 A.M. sharp. I’ll see you then.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll see you at 8 A.M. on Saturday.”
I casually got up and walked out of the captains office and once again made my way down the seemingly maze like stairs to the main platform. There I found who I assumed was Lieutenant Casey waiting for me, surrounded by gear. He was a tall guy, slight muscular build. He had blond hair and blue eyes, and was slightly olive skinned like I was. I walked up to him, and he stuck out his hand with a big smile on his face.
“Reuben Stark.” I said, shaking his hand in return.
“Would you happen to know your sizes?”
“Yes, I made sure to put them in my phone.”
I told him my sizes, and I guess I made his life a lot easier because he seemed relieved that I didn’t have to try on a bunch of gear.
“It’s been a busy day for you too, huh?” I asked him.
“Very. It seems the proby is a black cloud.”
“Oh, that’s very fun.”
“what about you, are you a black cloud, or are you a white one?”
“I’m more of in the space between. I'm the cloud before the storm or after.”
“Well, congratulations, Reuben. You are the very first grey cloud at this department.”
“Yeah, that seems to be the case for most departments I go to.”
“So, how busy has your life been?”
“Well, I’ve been comatose since my birthday, so I’ve spent most of my day catching up with life that went on during that time.”
“I can’t say I know how you feel, but I know the stress that you have.”
“Great, someone I can relate to. Haha.”
“Alright, your gear and cubby are right here. Hey, Luke! Get me some masking tape and a sharpie, would ya?”
“Well, now I’ll know more than just two people on the department.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll introduce you to everyone on shift.”
“Good thing I have a photographic memory.”
“Really? Well aren’t you lucky.”
“Not so much. Once you see something you want to unsee, it’s almost impossible.”
Just then, luke came running around the corner. He was tall with a big build. African american, with curly hair hair that was short a tight to his head.
“Here you go.” He said.
“Thanks.” Said Matt.
“Hi, I’m Luke.” He said, sticking his hand out to me.
“Reuben, It’s nice to meet you Luke.” I said, shaking his hand.
“Luke, will you take Reuben to meet everyone?” Asked Matt.
“Sure.” Luke said.
He led me to what I guessed was the dining room, where everyone was eating.
“Are you hungry?” Luke asked.
“No, I ate breakfast about an hour ago. Thanks.”
“You ate breakfast at twelve thirty in the afternoon?”
“Oh, I guess time has just flown right by.”
“Here, have a bowl and take a seat.”
I grabbed a bowl of what looked like beef stew and a biscuit and took a seat on the right side of luke. Thankfully, Matt sat next to me so I wouldn’t have to sit by someone I haven’t met yet. Once it seemed everyone was settled in, Matt stood up.
“Alright guys, as you have heard, we are getting a new member. We are going back to grade school. You’re going to say your name and something about yourself. I’m Matt, and I have a three year old daughter.”
Around the table this went. Finally, it was Luke’s turn.
“I’m Luke, and I like to play basketball.”
“Well, I’m Reuben, and I have a photographic memory, so I’m sure I’m going to remember everyone’s name.”
The whole table broke out in laughter, and went on with their eating.
“So, how long have you been in the emergency services?” asked Chris.
“So, you’re twenty two?”
“Nope, I just turned eighteen July ninth.”
“Well, then happy birthday.”
I was about done when Matt asked Luke to show me the rest of the place. Fifteen minutes later, the tour was over, so I just decided to go home. Just as I walked out of the station, I heard loud crashes and booms and screams a few blocks over. Well, I know where everyone is. I got into my car and avoided that area and went home. Once I got to my room, I found the foot of my bed bombarded with birthday gifts and cards. The one gift that stuck out the most was a gift from S.H.I.E.L.D. It looked like one of these boxes that would have clothing in it, so I was thinking it’d be a jacket. To my surprise, it was nothing like that at all. It was a uniform. Of course, it had the symbol on the side, but everything else was about my powers. It was a black leather jacket and pants, and down the mid point it was a vibrant blue. There were a pair of knuckle gloves with the same design, and a pair of boots the same color. Then, an idea came to mind.