Over the next ten days, thing continued to improve, I wasn’t anywhere near passable, but I could do a few pushups without my arms giving away before I’d finished the first one… We also continued the whole cooking thing, which became a thing at the lounge; Kickback and I would make dinner or often the second dinner of the night, she’d also given me a cookbook from her own collection to use at home. Which I did. In addition to the physical exercise, there was abilities and teamwork training as well as having to memorize terms, definitions and procedures. All of that plus school and homework left me little time for anything else.
“What time is it?” I asked in between two exercises.
“About Five thirty.” She said, looking at her watch.
“Hey, Kickback? Could I please go home early tonight?”
“It’s not like you to slack off Paige.” She said, frowning.
“It’s not that, it’s just my dad is in town for a few days and I really want to have dinner with him just this once…” I explained, looking down.
“Alright, Finish the next set and then go get yourself cleaned up and then we’ll go.”
“I think this is a good opportunity to meet your parents, they surely have a lot of questions and I can also get to know more about your personal milieu.”
“What about the others?”
“If they didn’t have the discipline to continue unsupervised, they wouldn’t be young guardians. I trust that Volley will pick up the slack.”
“But now, get busy.”
“Yes sir!” I said, saluting. It made her smile.
I finished the set of squats, I had to do four sets of a slowly growing number of repetitions on most exercises and when that was done, I ran upstairs and jumped in the shower, cleaning myself in record time, I had no time to enjoy the warmth. I towelled off and put some new clothes before joining KB at the front entrance where she had a car waiting for us, driving herself. I took the opportunity to send my mom a text saying I was coming earlier than usual.
When we came into the apartment, my dad was there, leaning against the stove and talking with my mom who was sipping coffee despite how late it was.
“Hey Dad!” I said, running up to him in the over encumbered kitchen and practically throwing myself at him, we shared a very long hug. “I missed you so much.”
I’m a huge daddy’s girl, sue me.
“How have you been, Pumpkin?” He liked that nickname, I didn’t know why he’d ever settled on it though.
“Good, I guess. Did mom tell you everything?”
“Yes. She did.” He didn’t look very happy. His gaze turned toward Kickback.
“I’m Kimberly, Paige’s parole officer. Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you too.” My dad said, shaking her hand. “I’m Gabriel, this is my wife Natasha.”
Kickback -- It was rather odd thinking of her as Kimberly -- took a good look at them, she probably tried to gauge the age of my parents. My mom had given birth to me when she was barely nineteen and my dad and her had only a few months age difference.
“Paige told me both of you would be available and I thought you’d appreciate the opportunity to talk seeing how much the hearing and sentencing were rushed.”
“Of course, would you like some coffee or tea?” My dad asked.
“Coffee please. Black.”
“I was about to make dinner, since the fridge is surprisingly well stocked, would you like to join us?” My dad asked. She said yes. “Is anyone opposed to chicken?” Everyone was cool with it. “Have you been doing shopping lately, honey?”
“No, that would be Paige’s doing. She has been cooking everyday for the last week or so, She’s bought it all herself.” My mom said.
The approval in Kickback’s expression was clear. I liked cooking and perhaps more importantly to me; people liked my cooking.
“How have you been buying these things, Paige?” My dad frowned. I didn’t exactly get an allowance and I’d spent a lot of money, at least in relation to our usual spending.
“I’ve been helping her, giving her money.” KB answered. “I’m also teaching her how to feed herself properly and cook. This is temporary of course once she has graduated from the initial training, she’ll be able to afford it all herself.”
“Dad, Can I help with dinner?” I asked.
We debated what to for a moment and settled on a Balsamic and tomato braised chicken and accompany it with a rice pilaf and pan roasted veggies. It was nice doing something with my dad. It wasn’t too long before we were all sitting at the table with our dinner.
We all enjoyed for a moment before Kickback broke the silence. “I’m sure you two have a lot of questions. Is there anything you’d like me to explain?”
“Will our daughter be put in danger?” My mom asked.
“For at least a few months, Paige will not be allowed to face supervillains or other threats. She will still be in the initial training for at least another eleven week, probably more depending on her performance. And even when her training will be complete, young guardians aren’t authorized to act alone, she’ll have an entire team to help her. If she is harmed, we have two of the most recognized medical tinkerers on payroll to take care of her; there are very few things that remain beyond their ability to heal.” I knew it wasn’t an understatement, Elixir’s nasty potion had healed me from broken ribs in less than a day and spared me months of agony.
“You mentioned Paige getting paid.” It was my mom. Of course.
“Once she becomes an official member of the young guardians, she’ll begin receiving a salary as a government employee. Since she’s on probation her salary will be reduced, she should start around the fifty to sixty thousand mark, most of which will go to a trust fund.” That was a lot of money, I wasn’t very money smart as I never had any, but it was more than my parents earned pooled together… “Once her two year probation is over, she should be receiving somewhere in the six digits, guardians payrolls are variable depending on abilities and activity.”
My parents didn’t seem to know what to say, my ability to thoughtlessly attack Russian criminals and almost get myself killed had landed me a six digit salary part time job.
“Once her probation is over, Paige will be able to stay on board or leave the young guardians program, her trust fund will be opened when she attains her GCSE or reach 18, whichever comes first. So should Paige want to pursue college, she’ll be able to.”
There was an air of relief on my dad. If there was one thing he hated was that I never would have been able to enroll at a good college with our income.
"About the probation, is Paige obligated to be a young guardian?" My dad asked.
"Technically no, if she decide to end her training or employment, she'll simply have to face the rest of her sentence in a juvenile detention facility."
My parents asked a few more questions and she answered them; No, I was not obligated to respond to Kaiju attacks even after the end of my training, I already had medical and dental insurance as well as an appointed doctor and psychiatrist. No, gangbangers weren’t mine to deal with, and yes, I’d have plenty of vacation days once I was out of training. As they talked, my mind started to drift as I absently shoved the leftovers from the pan into my mouth. Divergent biology might have reduced my need for sleep, but it didn’t prevent me from being exhausted.
“I think it’s time for me to head back.” Kickback declared once the barrage of questions was over. “Thank you for the dinner, it was excellent. If you have anymore questions, you can call me. Paige knows my number.”
My parents thanked her and escorted her to the door while I was practically laying face first into my empty plate.
“Paige, I think it’s time we have an honest talk, you and I.” My dad declared when he came back to the kitchen. “Do you want to go to your room, have some privacy?” I nodded and we went to my room, sitting on the bed.
He took a moment to collect his thoughts before speaking.
“When you mom told me what happened, I was furious. I was angry at you for doing something so thoughtless and dangerous because that’s not how I raised you, but I can’t help to be also angry at myself and at your mom.” He confessed. “I don't think you’re entirely at fault for it, we are too, you wouldn’t have done it if everything was alright and for a long time I knew you weren’t feeling right but I didn’t know what to do or say, and we let it escalate until you did something desperate. I’m sorry I can’t be there as much as you need.”
“It’s okay, I know you would be if you could.”
“But now that I’m here, do you know what I see? You’re happier Paige. You’re smiling, you’re doing things without looking like you’re carrying the world on your shoulder and now you’re taking care of yourself.”
“Well… I’ve been on antidepressant medication for about ten days, I think it helps. I'm also healthier, I’m eating regularly I don’t skip as many meals anymore, the training gives me a dose of exercise and but more importantly, I have friends in Kenzie and the other young guardians. Joining them was what I needed to turn myself around, I feel useful and wanted… If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d probably have tried to kill myself… again.”
“Paige, have you tried committing suicide?” When he’d heard me, his eyes went wide.
“Yes.” My dad squeezed me so tightly I couldn’t breathe for a second. “I jumped down a bridge in november last year.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I didn’t want you and mom to worry. You both work so hard for me and I didn’t want to burden you with my screwed up head. I just had a bad day and I couldn’t take it anymore… It didn’t work and I just snuck back home and pretended nothing happened.”
“Paige, I love you more than anyone, your problems aren’t bothering me and I’m sure your mom thinks the same way.”
“When I met Kenzie and learned she was part of the young guardians, I wanted to be with her. She was cool, smart and talented plus she was part of this group of equally awesome people and I wanted -- No. I needed that. I had to be as good as she and her friends if I hoped to stay her friend. Mom wouldn’t allow me to, so I did what I did.”
“Sounds like you really like her if you fought the russian mafiya just to be her friends.”
“Yeah, I do…” I blushed, turning about the same color as my favorite hoodie. Neither of my parent knew that I was into girls. “It wasn’t that much of a fight, I just punched a few guys before they could react and then got my ass kicked. I’m glad you didn’t get to see the bruises and the ribs, it was awful.”
“I’m worried about you, Paige, but I’m also trying to be happy that you’re so happy.”
“Thanks. I love you dad.”
“I love you too little pumpkin. Don’t give up, you’re stronger than you think you are.”