“Hmm,” I said, looking down at my phone once more.
Shay hadn’t come home last night. That wasn’t too unusual on its own, but she almost always let me know when she was crashing some place else. She wasn’t even picking up her phone. I was a bit worried about her, but I knew that whatever it was that she was in the middle of, Shay could handle it.
Pocketing my phone, I knocked on the apartment door.
Waiting for my host, I pulled out my phone again, checking to see if there was any word from Shay.
“I know you’re okay,” I whispered. “Just please call me.”
Suddenly, and without any sound coming from behind the door beforehand, the entrance swung open.
“Carter bro!” Joey shouted, giving me a bear hug.
“Joey,” I gasped. “I just saw you last night…and you’re kind of choking me.”
“Whoops,” he said, an embarrassed look on his face. Letting go of me, he said, “Just uh…savoring every moment. You know?”
Already in bad mood, there wasn’t anything keeping me from realizing what he was talking about.
“You know you don’t have to stay here, right?” I asked. “The city is too big to evacuate everyone, but you could leave. Smog probably wouldn’t hunt you down, and no one would think less of you.”
Joey shook his head.
“I know I could leave. But this place, this city. It’s home. And if you, Shay, and Malcolm are all staying to fight, then so am I.”
This wasn’t Joey’s job. He wasn’t a super hero. He wasn’t even a cop anymore. But still, I knew that if I was in his shoes, I’d be staying too.
“Alright,” I said, the two of us high fiving and then clasping each other’s hands.
“You wanna come in now?” Joey asked.
Nodding, the two of us entered Joey’s apartment.
Since Shay, Malcolm, and I were going to be spending tonight handing out presents, Joey had taken it upon himself to invite the rest of us over for a big lunch.
Joey’s place wasn’t a location I frequented, but I was still able to tell that he’d redecorated since the last time I was here, and I was most definitely a fan of what he’d done.
His walls were a bright red, and among the things he’d hung on them were: Pictures of him with the rest of his family, including Darling, an assortment of posters, some of which I really wanted, and a large dry-erase board.
The main room of the apartment was positively awesome. He had a 72 inch flat screen TV, all three of the current gen consoles, and as far as furniture went, there was just a coffee table and bean bag chairs.
“Hey, uh,” I started. “Have you heard from Shay? She didn’t come home last night.”
Joey laughed awkwardly.
“Yeah, about that,” Joey said, tugging on his collar.
“Dude, what happened?” I asked.
The fact that he was being so awkward meant that this wasn’t anything too serious, which was a relief, but it also meant that whatever it was, it was going to piss me off.
“Look,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about. Malcolm and Shay will be here soon, and they can explain what happened then.”
She was with Malcolm? That made sense. Those two were practically joined at the hip these days.
“Alright,” I said, finally able to smile now that I knew for sure that Shay was safe. Following then, I smelled something. Something delicious. “Joey, what did you make for lunch?”
Joey turned around and gestured with his arm for me to follow him.
“I didn’t really feel like cooking. So instead…”
He stopped talking as we entered his small kitchen area, where I saw a four foot tall tower of pizza boxes.
“Yooooooooo!” I shouted.
“I thought you’d like this, Bro.”
I opened up the box at the top of the stack, and saw it was an anchovy pizza, Shay’s favorite.
“What other kinds did you get?” I asked, full of hype.
“Let’s see,” Joey started, counting on his fingers as he spoke. “There’s a buffalo chicken pie, two regular cheese pies, a spinach white pie…”
I cut him off, eager to know if he’d gotten my all-time favorite.
“A PB&J pie?!”
Joey gave a dramatic thumbs up.
This time, I wrapped my arms around him.
“To be honest, I couldn’t actually find any pizzaria that sold it, and more than one guy laughed at me over the phone, so I called Raina, told her what we were doing, and she had her chef quickly make it.” As I let go of Joey, he said, “I swear, that girl will do just about anything for you.”
“It goes both ways.”
Sure, Raina and I hadn’t been hanging as as much as we used to over the last month, but our bond was as strong as ever.
“So, what do you want to do until the others get here?” Joey asked.
“Well, we could spar a little,” I suggested. Every moment of preparation for Smog counts.”
“Okay, okay,” Joey said, nodding. “That’s good. But I have another idea.”
For the next 20 minutes or so, Joey and I sat around his laptop and watched a bunch of adorable cat videos, online.
“Naww,” I squeed. “It thinks it’s people.”
Just then, there was a knock on the door.
As much fun as the videos had been to watch, I leaped out of my seat the second I hear the knocking. I really wanted to know what was going on with Shay.
I opened the door, and before me were Shay and Malcolm, both looking like they’d seen better days, but smiling nonetheless.
Also, for some reason, they were holding hands.
“Hey!” Shay exclaimed, letting go of Malcolm, gave me a hug. “Bro, you are not going to believe the Hell of a night we had.”
“Seriously,” Malcolm started, as Shay let go of me, and the two walked into the apartment. “Things got crazy.”
“Let’s hear about it,” Joey said, welcoming them in.
“Okay, well,” Malcolm began.
“Hold on,” Shay said, sniffing. “There’s anchovy pizza here.”
Joey made as smug a look as was humanly possible.
“Oh God bless you,” she said, making a bee-line for the kitchen.
The other guys and I followed her back into the kitchen, where we each took our first slice. Shay, of course, took an anchovy slice, I took a PB&J slice, Malcolm took a buffalo chicken slice, and Joey took a slice with mushrooms and olives.
“Beer?” Joey asked.
“Sure,” I said, knowing that so long as I didn’t have an entire bottle, I wouldn’t get drunk.
“Uh,” Shay chuckled. “I think Malcolm and I had enough last night.”
“Alrighty,” Joey said, getting beers for just himself and I.
Our food in hand, we sat down in Joey’s beanbag chairs, and Shay started telling her story.
“I guess we’ll start with the one depressing part,” Shay said, clutching Malcolm’s hand. “Lillian’s dead.”
“Lillian?” Joey asked, probably having never met her.
“One of Malcolm’s sisters,” I told him.
Malcolm, behind his closed lips, was clearly clenching his teeth.
“Oh. Sorry, Bro.”
“It’s okay,” Malcolm said, taking a deep breath. His smile for just a minute ago returned. “Fortunately, the rest of the night was the good kind of crazy.”
Shay nodded in agreement.
“We went to go take down Esteban Loyarte, and we, well, things could have gone better at first.”
“Shay got the shit kicked out of her by a bunch of scribbled gorillas,” Malcolm mocked.
“And this oaf thought it was a good idea to charge at three guys holding guns instead of trying to use stealth.”
“She was almost beaten to death!”
“He almost bled out!”
Joey and I exchanged concerned looks, both of us wondering why they sounded so happy and excited about all of this.
“Now you’re probably wondering,” Shay said. “How did we survive?”
“Well, get this,” Malcolm continued. “Fucking, Smog showed up!”
“What?!” Joey and I screamed simultaneously.
“RIght?” Shay asked as if that bastard showing up was the coolest thing in the world. “Salaran and Gordon were both there too.”
“Jesus,” Joey said. “How did them showing up save you?”
“Because, apparently whatever Esteban was having brought to him, Smog really didn’t want him to have. So, he killed them, and had Gordon heal us.”
“He healed you?” I exclaimed. “Not that I’m not happy you guys made it out of there, but why the Hell would Smog ever help us?”
“You and Malcolm are still players in his sick game,” Shay said. “And while I’m not sure, I’d guess it was Gordon’s idea to heal me as well.”
“Alright,” I said. “Guess that makes sense.”
“Oh!” Malcolm shouted. “Shay also got a sneak attack in on Smog, and when they talked, she totally had him pissing himself.”
“He’s exaggerating,” Shay oddly embarrassed.
“I’m really not,” Malcolm said, grinning widely.
“Regardless,” I butted in. “Why didn’t either of you tell me about this after it was over? What were you guys doing?”
Shay and Malcolm stared at each other, exchanging smiles.
What were they doing? And what could get Malcolm to be so cheery? And what had been so important that Shay didn’t text me where she was?
“You wanna tell them?” Shay asked.
“I think you should,” Malcolm replied.
Joey couldn’t help but laugh. This troubled me.
“Little bro,” Shay said. “You know how Malcolm and I have been holding hands since we got here?”
“Yeah,” I said, getting even more worried. “Did your hands not heal properly?”
“Oh my God,” Malcolm said, bursting into laughter. “You can not be this thick, kid.”
“Hey!” Shay shouted, elbowing Malcolm lightly. “No more insulting him.”
The word kept repeating in my head, my face frozen.
“Oops,” Malcolm said.
“Damn it, Malcolm,” Shay said, getting closer to me. “Listen Bro, it’s not like we’re too serious. We’re just…”
I didn’t fully hear what she was saying, as my brain was too busy repeating:
“…Do you understand?” Shay asked.
“Raaaaagh!” I screamed, throwing down my plate and tackling Malcolm.
“Carter!” Shay and Joey both shouted in shock.
“It’s okay,” Malcolm said, pinned to the ground by me. “If the kid needs to vent, he needs to vent. Just let him punch me a few times and…”
Flexing my bicep, I made a fist and hit Malcolm in the face.
“God damn!” Malcolm shouted in pain, putting his hand over the bruise I’d just left. “When did you get so strong?”
“Apparently, while you were banging my sister!”
With each word out of my mouth, I punched him in the face again.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Shay said as she effortlessly pulled me off of Malcolm.
“You okay, Malcolm?” Joey asked.
“Honestly, all I feel is pride in how strong the kid’s become.”
“Seriously?!” I shouted. “You’re fucking my sister who’s only three years older than me, and you’re still calling me “kid?”
“Carter, calm down and listen,” Shay said, putting a hand on either side of my head. “We have not been “fucking” or “banging” or however else you want to refer to sex. We haven’t even kissed.”
“But you’re still going out with him,” I said.
“Why is this even a problem for you?” she asked. “Don’t you want me to be with a good guy? Who would you consider better than your best guy friend?”
“Eh hem,” Joey interrupted.
Shay sighed, annoyed by him.
“One of your best guy friends,” she “corrected” what she’d said to please Joey.
I turned to Malcolm, who’d stood up.
“How could you do this, man?” I asked. “Friends don’t date their friend’s siblings.”
“I’m not apologising,” Malcolm said, approaching me. “We’ve always had very different ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong, but this time, I know I’m right. It doesn’t matter who two people are related to. If they want to be together, they should be together.”
Malcolm and I stared at each other for a few moments, and I could see in his eyes that he cared about Shay. No, that wasn’t all. He loved her.
I turned back to Shay.
“You’re sure this is what you want?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she said, giving me her warm smile.
Hesitantly, I nodded.
“Alright,” I said. “I hope you two are happy together.”
If this were one of the romance anime I watched, and I was the protagonist, I probably wouldn’t have been able to let this go so easy. And while I still wasn’t completely happy about this situation, the least I could do for both Shay and Malcolm was to be supportive.
“Thanks kid,” Malcolm said, Shay walking over to him and hooking her arm around his.
“You’re welcome. Just remember that if you hurt her, I’m actually capable of hurting you now.”
“Carter, shut up,” Shay said in a jovial tone. “If he hurts me, I’ll kill him myself.”
The three of us laughed, and, despite my remaining misgivings about this relationship, my laughter was genuine.
“Uh, guys, I think you’re gonna want to see this,” Joey said, his eyes on his phone.
“Not now Joey,” Shay said. “I just wanna sit down the people I care about most and eat some pizza.”
“Yeah, that sounds nice,” Malcolm agreed.
“No, guys, this isn’t a fun cat video. This is something you three need to see now. Especially you, Carter.”
Of course it was “especially Carter”, I thought.
“Alright,” Malcolm sighed. “Let’s get this over with so my girl get her anchovies.”
All of us gathered around Joey’s phone and he started playing a video.
The setting of the recording was Panda Corp, the look of the place not having changed since the last time I was there. Andrew Davenport was standing at a podium, a large amount of microphones set up by multiple press outlets.
For some reason, Andrew wasn’t wearing a suit and tie like he usually did, instead wearing a black turtleneck, a dark blue leather vest, black gauntlets, a badass blue and black trenchcoat, and pointed shoes.
“What is this?” Malcolm asked.
“Be quiet and watch,” Shay replied, paying very close attention to the video.
This was the least surprising thing which had happened all day. For months she’d been paranoid about Andrew being up to something, and she seemed eager to get anyone to believe her.
“Hello!” Andrew began. “I’d like to extend an enormous thanks to the members of the press who join us here for this momentous occasion.”
The video cut to an extreme long shot of where Andrew was standing, revealing there were four people standing beside him.
One of them was a woman I didn’t recognize, but she was pretty sexy. She also wore the same outfit as Andrew, but with the dark blue swapped out for yellow.
The other three people with him were Eve, Olivia, and Raina, each of them dressed the same as the others, but with their colors being light blue, red, and pink respectively.
“What is this?” I whispered, hoping to God that Shay was wrong about Andrew being evil, and he hadn’t corrupted Raina.
“As I’m sure most of you are already aware, I’m Andrew Davenport, CEO of Panda corp. However, I am many things besides just a businessman. I’m a connoisseur of magic shows. I’m a proud resident of Bluejay City. I’m a father,” he said, putting a hand on Raina’s shoulder. “And, I’m a man of faith.”
Behind Andrew and the four women, a screen lit up, and the letters “CLB” appeared on it. Before he continued speaking, Andrew’s smile disappeared.
“However, in recent days, my faith has been put into question. For my entire life, I have been a dedicated Christian. As a boy, I spent every Sunday morning in church.”
When I was very young, my parents took me to church with them and Shay. Then, after I failed the 2nd grade, my dad said that I wasn’t “worthy of God’s light”, and said if I ever got near a church again, he’d beat me into a bloody pulp.
A small smirk appeared on Andrew’s face. “My mother read to me psalms from the Holy Bible every night.” Maintaining his smirk, he shook his head. “But now, things have been put into a new perspective.” Waving his finger, he went on to say, “When our wonderful city was under siege by an army of monsters, demons, God did not save us. No!” he shouted, slamming his fist against the podium. “God didn’t smite down the creatures with his holy light. He didn’t send down an army of warriors angels to protect us.” Andrew curled his lip and nodded. “No, our savior came in the form of a single man.”
Was…was he talking about me?
The video went back to showing a close up of Andrew.
“If I may go off on a tangent,” Andrew said. “Super heroes have been a part of our lives for generations. And I’m happy to say that I was alive during the time of the greatest team of heroes the world has ever seen, The Guardianship.” He smiled, resting both of his hands down on the podium. “But, Perses aside, they were just doing their duty as heroes. Namely, stopping super villains.”
The video cut back to showing all five robed figures.
Before Andrew continued speaking, he put an arm around Raina. She was smiling, but she didn’t look comfortable…at all.
“My beloved daughter, Raina, is known to many around the world as the super hero, Fencer. And, as a hero, she has had the privilege of working with the man who single handedly saved the world.”
He…he was talking about me.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Andrew shouted, the video cutting back to a close up of him. “The man who brought heroes back into our lives after 14 long years, and the man who sent the horrid demons back to Hell…” On the screen behind Andrew, what must have been of photoshopped picture of me in costume appeared. “LIghtning Bee!”
The crowd which he was speaking to cheered.
“So Raina’s dad is praising Carter?” Malcolm asked as the crowd continued to cheer. “What exactly was so pressing about this?”
“Because I read the damn title of the video,” Joey answered. “Keep watching!”
“People of Bluejay City…people of the world,” Andrew said. “Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Druidism! They are all nothing but lies! The true messiah? He lives among us! His image is before you!”
“Holy shit,” Shay said. “Tell me he isn’t going where I think he is.”
“Lightning Bee, whoever he truly is, deserves our praise. Deserves our worship!”
“And as such!” Andrew continued. “Myself, and my associates who stand before you, have pooled our funds together, and we will be founding…” he paused, and the letters “CLB” appeared back on the screen behind him. “The Church of Lightning Bee!”
Save Joey, all of our jaws dropped, cheers from the crowd coming from the video.
“Oh my god,” I said. “This is actually happening.”
“The five of us who stand here,” Andrew said. “We are the Votary! We shall lead this church! And we shall welcome all those who choose to worship our savior, Lightning Bee!”
And with final cheers from the audience, the video ended.
For a few moments, there was nothing but silence.
I licked my lips.
Malcolm munched on his pizza.
Shay picked at her nails.
And Joey just nodded.
“Guys,” I said. “It just occured to me that our lives are really weird.”