Kenzie wasn’t at school the next day. During the first break, right after geography class, I took the opportunity to send her a text.
Are you okay? <
She only answered me at the end of the next class, world history.
> Not really. Pushed myself too hard last night. Definitely W.S.
W.S. was short for Wagner’s syndrome, one of the few divergent only illness that existed, being caused by overuse of abilities. It manifested through fatigue, body aches, headaches, fever, shakes, brain fog and temporary loss or weakness of powers. It’s been lucky enough never to go through an episode, but I knew it wasn’t fun.
*hugs* Alright. Sleep well. I’ll see you later then. Love you. <
She didn’t answer back. When lunch came around, I sat down alone at a table with a handful of mostly strangers waiting for the line to dwindle down. I knew them but I’d never really interacted with anyone outside of class. I took the opportunity to text Chuan who gave me a rundown of their dockside encounter. Kenzie wasn’t the only one who was out of commission; Stan and Jessie also were. Although I hadn’t participated, Kickback sent me a text reminding me that today and tomorrow were my off days training-wise.
Once the line was light enough, I went in line and got some spaghetti with garlic bread. When I got to my previous table, someone had taken my seat. As I scanned the room for a new seat, I noticed a very familiar looking freckled redheaded girl sitting at table next to the cafeteria kitchen, along with an equally familiar boy.
“Hey Jacklyn.” I said meekly, sitting opposite them.
“Hello?” The guy I’d never learned the name of, said.
“Do I know you?” she asked, scrutinizing me. She leaned to her boyfriend and whispered something.
“You seriously don’t recognize me?” They didn’t answer. I pulled up my hood and made a domino mask with my fingers. “Just imagine my hoodie is white.”
“Wait.” She said. “YOU’RE Shell?”
“Yep. My name’s Paige by the way.”
“You mean we have a superhero at school? Oh my god, that’s awesome!” She said before covering her mouth with her hands. “Wait, I shouldn’t be saying that so loud, now should I?” She then asked whispering.
I shrugged. “I’m honestly surprised people don’t know. I’ve used my abilities in gym class when I’m allowed to participate like in badminton blocs and it’s fairly recognizable. I thought people would have already put two and two together.”
“No offense meant, but you are kind of small time…” She said, taking a brief pause seemingly to gauge my reaction. “The local young guardians, outside of Bandersnatch that is, aren’t very famous compared to those in new york or San Francisco. And the only time you’ve been out was a bit ago and there was no official announcement, I had to ask Buzzkill on the forums for info.”
The rest of lunch passed rather normally, although Jacklyn drilled me on info about the other guardians or what it was like to be one, which I threaded cautiously, trying to avoid revealing classified information that would land me in trouble.
The rest of school was unremarkable beyond a surprise pop quiz in english. Even though they were in my year Jacklyn, her boyfriend and I didn’t share any classes.
Once school was over I went outside and sat on one of the stone bench in front of the school, I was about to call for a lift to the headquarter when Jacklyn came to me.
“Hey, I was wondering…” She began, her voice was a little shaky. “Would you like to hangout tonight, or anytime really? Like whenever you’re free is cool with me.”
“Sure I guess, what about your boyfriend?” I looked around and didn’t see him.
“Bradley has Jiujitsu practices on wednesdays. Do you want to go to my place? It’s not far.”
I put my phone back into my pocket.
“Sure, why not.” She was clearly ecstatic that I’d said yes.
“Say, aren’t you cold dressed like that?”
“No, I’m immune to cold, it’s a perk of being a cryokinetic.”
“Oh. Someone should add it to your wiki entry.” I had a feeling she would be giving my cape wiki entry a lot of love.
She took the lead and we walked for a good twenty minutes until we reached an older duplex style house. She took a key from a rope around her neck and unlocked the door.
“This is it. It’s not much, but it’s home.” She declared, removing her winter clothes.
“Hey, it’s miles above my parent’s apartment.”
“Don’t guardians normally have super big salaries?”
“Normally yes, but I'm not technically a real young guardian, I still have about six weeks training before I graduate.”
“Oh, I thought trainees didn’t go out until they were fully trained.”
“Normally that would be the case, but I’m an anomalous case.”
Once she was done removing her clothes, she went into the kitchen, opening the fridge and offering me stuff. I settled on a glass of apple juice. Rather than go into her room, we sat down on stools at the kitchen island.
“So, how did you get your powers?” She asked, breaking the ice in a rather awkward manner, the question brought a flare of anxiety in my stomach.
“That’s honestly not something you should ask… Trigger events are very personal.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t know... What is it like to trigger?”
“It’s horrible, take the worst day of your life and multiply it by a hundred. It’s like you’re dying inside and even after it’s over you still bear the scars. It’s why nobody wants to talk about it, we don’t want to remember the trauma that caused it...”
“So you don’t know the other guardians’ origin story?”
“No, although I can sort of guess the broad circumstances... Powers come from the trauma that caused you to trigger. Environmental powers come from surviving your environment, movement powers from your need to get away, attack power for when the situation requires you to fight back, mental powers from needing to figure out a solution… And then there are defensive powers, for when you just need to survive something bad…There are exceptions, but that’s the rule of thumb.”
As I spoke, my hands began to shake and I clenched them. I bit my lip, trying not to remember that night. Jacklyn noticed and to my surprise, she got up gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get you like that.”
“I’m okay.” I whispered my voice shaky.
“Change of subject?”
“I’d appreciate it.” I answered. “Do you live with your parents?”
Small talks seemed like a safe bet.
“Just my mom… Well, technically. She’s not here often, she’s either at work or at her boyfriend’s.” She said with a shrug. “My dad’s just a deadbeat, he fucked off when I was six. Since then my mom’s just been dating a bunch of losers who hate me...”
I wasn’t sure what to say and she got quiet for a moment before speaking up again.
“Sorry, you probably don’t want to hear me bitch about how I hate my life.”
“Hey, it’s alright; I understand.”
“Let me show you something.” I opened my bag and dug my meds out. “Antidepressants. I’ve been on them for like two months. I know what it’s like to be unsatisfied with your life, I’m still working on fixing my life and screwed up head.”
This time, it was my turn to give her a hug. There was another bit of awkward silence.
“Alright. Take two; let’s think about something better and happier.” I said.
“Bradley’s been like the one good thing in my life.” She said with a shrug.
“Good, how did you meet him?”
“He actually live next door and we’ve been best friends since forever. Since I was always home alone, I’d go to his house after school and play with him until my mom came home. We became a thing at summer camp last year, I was the one who asked him out. I think he was a little shy because I knew he liked me, but he never like acted on it.” She said, thinking about her boyfriend seemed to make her happier, smiling as she remembered things. “What about you, do you have a boyfriend?”
“Kind of?” I said “By that I mean that I actually have a girlfriend.”
“Oh.” She answered, not expecting my response. Being gay was a never ending parade of coming out anytime you made a new acquaintance who almost always assumed you were straight. “Well, it’s okay, you know. What’s her name?”
“Mackenzie Tibeluk. She’s in my class.”
Her eyes darted to her right ear for a moment, indicating she was thinking. Probably trying to see if she remembered her.
“How is she? I mean as a girlfriend.”
“She’s just wonderful. She’s beautiful and amazing at what she does.” I said, I couldn’t help but smile. “She came into my life at a moment when I was alone, hurting and vulnerable. She was a friend when I desperately needed one.”
It was becoming very clear we sucked at keeping conversation light...
“Hey, if you ever need a friend, just call me, okay?”
“You really see me as a friend?”
“Well, yeah. You seem nice enough. And hey, you’re the closest I have to a friend outside of the guardians so…”
“What about your girlfriend?”
I didn’t answer.
“Oh my god, who is she? Is it Ingot or Amarok? Wait no, Amarok is like way too young to be in your class. You're dating Ingot.
“Guilty as charged.”
“Does that mean I’ll get to meet another hero?”
“Hangout with me and you’ll probably meet all of them.”
Her eyes just positively glowed right then. It was like Christmas had come early.
“Hey listen, it’s not that I don’t like it here, but I really need to check on Kenzie, she’s sick with W.S.”
“Oh alright. Good night Paige.”
“Take care of yourself Jacklyn.”
She gave me one last hug, clinging really tightly. I gave her my phone number and took a bus to the headquarters’ neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.
The night passed slowly as I played nurse to my sick girlfriend and friends.