As it turns out, Imani Jordan isn't rich. She and her family are wealthy. I searched up her name and dozens of articles on her popped up. Most are about her various acts of philanthropy across continental Africa where she's from. It explains part of her accent, there's a biopic about her parents' polyamorous relationship. Being raised by five people from all corners of the world is why she says certain words in certain ways.
I'd look into her more but I feel creepy enough, so instead, I get ready for school; picking my long hair out and pulling it into an afro-tail. It's an unexpectedly hot day out. Seems summer isn't done with us yet.
When I get to school, relishing in the air conditioning, I notice the halls are sparse. I worry for a second that I'm late, or worse early when I see some people running to the other side of the building. I follow them and hear something loud going on outside. Everybody is pressed against the windows to look at whatever is causing the commotion. It takes me a little while to get to a window that's facing the scene and isn't occupied. Outside on the street amidst a pileup of cars is Lamar fighting what can only be described as a giant chicken.
Ok, maybe giant isn't the right word. I mean, it's bigger than a chicken should be, about nine or ten feet tall. It's hard to tell with it moving around like a …a chicken with its head cut off. You know what, it's a giant chicken and Lamar is fighting it. But fighting is an exaggeration too, really he's waiting for emergency services to get people out of their cars to safety. For now, he's keeping it at bay by zapping at its feet. The chicken flaps its wings in fear as feathers fly comically. I like to think that I'd be more surprised at the idea of a colossal chicken running rampant if it weren't for the fact that this is the third giant animal to be released in these last few months. The first being a rat, which didn't help with the jokes about Excelsior City. The second was an ant over in Amboy State. Whatever or whoever is the cause of this has a weird sense of humor.
Lamar backflips, and I mean really backflips, out of the way when the chicken tries to peck at him. Its beak cracks the asphalt. I open the window and lean out to see and hear better.
"Careful! You could hurt someone," Lamar points and yells at the chicken. Why is he talking to it? The chicken bawks loudly as a response. It flaps its wings and jumps, trying to scratch him with its talons. He gets out the way and instead a streetlight takes the blow. The metal pole groans and tilts over, crashing into a building.
"Civilians are clear!" One of the police informs.
Lamar arcs electricity up his arms, releasing a bolt of lightning. It strikes the chicken in what I guess is its chest. The chicken shakes for a moment but continues its attack, pecking at Lamar. The beak is about the size of his head, it keeps trying to hit him. Lamar barely keeps ahead of the assault. He holds the beak open when it tries to bite him.
Lamar turns into electricity and reforms above it. He grabs it by the feathers, working to get his arm around its neck, and (there really is no other way to say this) starts choking the chicken.
"GO TO SLEEP!" He commands. The bird refuses, starting to thrash about. It manages to throw him off; Lamar lands on his back on top of a car windshield, his weight breaking it.
I can hear him groan from here, getting up from the hood.
"OK, NOW I'M MAD!" He unleashes another bolt that the chicken dodges. Lamar holds his arm out, watching the electricity soar further away. The chicken gets closer and closer. Then Lamar pulls his arm back, with it the same bolt of lightning comes back and strikes the chicken in the head.
Yet another ability he has. I'm starting to wonder exactly can't he do with electricity.
The chicken is stunned for a moment, which is all he needs. Lamar shoots a stream of lightning into the poultry. When he pulls his arms back the chicken falls over.
For a second I think it's dead but then it heaves a breath. Unconscious.
A second later Tanisha Thompson lands next to him. They start talking about something, I can't hear them from up here but she walks away to help emergency services. Lamar zips up a power line and in an instant appears next to me.
"Are you ok?" I ask, remembering him landing on a car only a little while ago. He rolls his shoulders.
"Yeah, I mean, who doesn't like fried chicken?" He laughs at his own joke. That doesn't answer my question.
"Hmm, that joke was most fowl," the unmistakable voice of Imani Jordan says. She approaches us in the hallway, looking perfect as always. Dressed in cuffed khakis, flats, and a lilac linen shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Her dark brown dreadlocks are woven into an intricate pattern as they fall in a ponytail. I'm gay and she makes a heart throb. The people accompanying her, less so. A man and woman flank her in black suits and opaque sunglasses. Bodyguards. What's she expecting to happen?
Lamar laughs at the joke, finding it so funny as to hold his sides.
"That was a good one, Ms. Jordan," Lamar says.
"'Ms. Jordan'. No need to be so formal, we're the same age, Lamar."
"Sorry, I just feel that since you fly in helicopters I should be formal. That, and you do have bodyguards." He points at the two suits. They scan him up and down. Clearly, they don't know who he is, otherwise, they wouldn't think they could take him.
"Oh, just my parents being overprotective. Your helicopter fails one time and suddenly you have to have armed guards with you."
"Sure, who hasn't had that happen to them before?" I say without realizing I'm speaking aloud. Imani giggles and turns to me.
"How rude of me, I didn't catch your name. You were there at Sundial Square, and at the protest. I'm Imani Jordan." She offers her hand to shake. I keep the fact that I know her name and family history to myself.
"I'm Jason Duval."
"He's my friend," Lamar says. Imani flashes a stunning smile.
"Well, the more friends the better."
"What're you doing here?" I ask. "It's a little late in the semester to transfer."
"I'm actually done with school," Imani informs me. "When you can afford private tutors and go to different schools around the world, you skip a few grades so," she shrugs "I'm done with it. Might as well get some use out of being wealthy."
"So what are you doing here?" Lamar asks.
"I'm starting a new philanthropy organization to provide schools with better equipment and books. I'm going to spend some time at different schools seeing what they need, make a list and then get the stuff on it. I was actually heading to this school when I saw you fighting that large chicken."
"It was poultry in motion," I say. Both Lamar and Imani laugh out loud because of course, they have the same taste in jokes. Her bodyguards are still as statues.
"Well, I have to talk to your principal, but would you two like to do something after school? I haven't been in Excelsior City long and was hoping to see some more exciting parts of it before I get overloaded with my work. Would you like to be my guides?"
"If it's alright with your guards here," Lamar remarks. Imani turns to the man.
"Would that be okay?" The bodyguard says something into his earpiece and waits a few moments before giving a single nod. "See? Right as rain! We'll meet after school and you can show me this city!" With that Imani leaves, taking her bodyguards with her. Lamar and I exchange a look.
"You don't really think she wants us to show her around, do you?" I ask. Lamar shakes his head.
"No, I'm sure she's just being nice. Like when people say 'we should do brunch sometime.' I'm sure she'll forget about us."
After the giant chicken is hauled off, school starts and the day passes in a relatively normal way. What isn't normal is the limo waiting outside when we exit the building. Before either one of us can take a stab at whose it is Imani appears out of a rolled down window.
"Come along boys! The city awaits!" Lamar and I look at each other before we enter the fanciest vehicle I've ever been in. Leather seats, blue under lights and an assortment of drinks that upon a closer look are just fancy bottles of soda. The bodyguards sit within close proximity to Imani. "Matthew is our driver today, just tell him where we should go and he'll whisk us away," Imani explains. She lowers the partition "Matthew! We'll be taking directions from these gentlemen today, ok?"
"You got it, Ms. Jordan."
"Where to first?" Lamar shrugs at me.
"How about the Sovereign Building?" I suggest.
"You heard the man. To the Sovereign Building!"
"Right away," Matthew says. I've been to the Sovereign Building once but didn't actually go to the top since it costs a ludicrous amount to ride the elevators. When we get there Imani thinks nothing of the price and we ride up over a hundred floors to the top. Even at this time of day, at this time of year, there are plenty of tourists here. Imani stops us before we get out of the elevator. She hands the elevator operator two hundred dollar bills.
"We want to see the real top floor," she simply says. The operator puts the bills in his pocket and obliges. We go up another floor and walk onto a skinny balcony, private without anyone else around, and no plexiglass divider between us and the city. Imani gleefully goes to the edge to look out over the city. From this high up the entire city can be seen. It's not as dramatic as being carried by a flying superhero or being in a failing helicopter but it is safer. It's nice to take in the view of the city without fearing for your life. The three (five) of us walk around the building, seeing all Excelsior has to offer our eyes.
Imani leans over the railing and without turning to face us says,
"So what's next?"
For the next week or so Imani meets us after school and we all go to different places around our city. Places that real Excelsiorites never go to unless they're showing someone around, the Statute of Hope, Kioshk Island, the Basquiat Museum: real tourist traps. Not that it matters to Imani who is genuinely thrilled everywhere we go. With her paying for practically everything along with taking us everywhere, I know I should enjoy myself more.
And I would if I didn't feel like a third wheel the whole time. In exploring our city Imani has found that she and Lamar have many things in common. A terrible sense of humor for one thing, along with a similar taste in music and food...though Imani does agree with me that Tuttarella has superior pizza so I know she has good taste. They even like the same old TV shows. It doesn't hurt that they both always look like they belong on the cover of a fashion magazine or something. Lamar and Imani have the makings of the power couple of the century: her financially and him physically. I'm just the awkward, ordinary friend of these two titans.
Today, Imani suggests we do something fun now that her parents trust her to go around without her bodyguards. Which is good because the feeling that they might suddenly put me in a headlock has been weighing on me this past week. And as usual, neither of them could make a decision so I choose karaoke.
It's amazing what you learn about a person when you're in a room with them for an hour or so with a microphone. Lamar sings well enough but he acts as if he's glued to the spot. There's no showmanship in his performance, but his strong voice rolls smoothly for the R&B songs he picked. Imani is almost the exact opposite, her accent has her dragging out certain words and being out of time with the song; but she delivers with great passion. She sings like she's the headliner at a concert with thousands of adoring fans.
As for me I hope I'm the best of both. Once my first song is over they both stand and applaud.
"Damn, dude!" Lamar says. "I've never heard anyone sing 'One to Adore' like that!"
"You're an excellent singer, Jason," Imani adds. I bow for them.
"I guess those years in choir were good for something," I remark. I remember hating having to wake up on Saturdays to go to practice.
"Man, when you hit that note on "One day I'm gonna be free" and let your hair outta your ponytail...Hooh! You were feeling it!" As Lamar says it his scar lights up.
"Monarch is one of my favorite bands, and when you're singing this song you gotta feel it." I pull my hair back and fix it with my scrunchie.
"You're really good, Jason!" Imani praises. "I know some people in the music industry, I can arrange some introductions."
"Nah, I just like singing as a hobby, I don't think I can make a career out of it," I reply. She wags a finger at me.
"Don't be sure about that. You sound better than some of these musicians nowadays. Be a real shame to hide that voice," Imani says. She's a very genuine person so I know that she means it.
"I'll think about it," I simply say.
After we exhaust our time we leave the karaoke place. We leisurely stroll through the park not wanting the evening to be over just yet.
There are storm clouds rolling in, thunder claps somewhere in the distance.
"Friends of yours?" Imani quips. Lamar smirks and sticks his right hand up. It's hard to see in the low light but the clouds come faster, lighting flashing inside them. The tons of water vapor congregate above us. With an ear splitting crack lightning spits out from them. Imani and I flinch back but Lamar stands still as the electricity from the sky above goes into his hand. All the clouds direct their energy at him and he absorbs it all until the lightning becomes weaker.
He lets his arm down and rolls his neck.
"Nothing like a quick pick me up," Lamar says like he just drank a cup of coffee instead of harnessing the power of weather itself. I add 'weather manipulation' to the apparently ever expanding list of abilities Lamar has.
"WOW, THAT WAS SPECTACULAR!" Imani exclaims.
"Seriously dude, is there anything you-" I start to say but I'm interrupted by a big SPLAT that lands on my shirt. It's bird poop, a bird just pooped on one of my favorite shirts, no doubt scared by the unnatural weather.
Both Lamar and Imani burst out laughing at my misfortune.
"Oh c'mon dude, you know if it happened to either of us you'd be laughing your head off." I would be but since it didn't, I'm not.
"Look on the bright side Jason," Imani says while wiping tears from her eyes. I don't see what upside bird crap could possibly have. "I heard that's good luck. Maybe you'll hear good news soon." Lamar finger guns at me.
"Yeah, maybe you'll hit the jackpot in the lotto or something. Then you can take us out sometime."
"Yeah, I'll hire a deep web hitman to take you both out." They both snicker at the dark joke as we all share a semi-twisted sense of humor. "I gotta wash this off."
"I think there's a bathroom over there," Lamar points out. Luckily there is a rest stop with a bathroom but the door has a padlock on it. Before I say anything about it Lamar summons electricity into his hand and melts through the shackle. He just puts a finger to his mouth.
"I won't say anything if you don't." He pushes the door open and the lights inside come to life. If they're on a motion sensor or if Lamar turned them on is unclear.
I take my shirt off and grab a bunch of paper towels. Wetting them, I start to clean off the crap, hoping hand soap and warm water will be enough. After a minute or two I get most of it out but I make a mental note to throw this in the wash as soon as I get home. So I put my wet, kinda clean shirt back on and head to the exit. I'm about to get out when I overhear something.
"Lamar, I must confess something," Imani says. I stop just before the door frame.
"What is it?"
"I...can't stop thinking about the day we met."
"Yeah, that day was crazy."
"It was but, it's when you saved me that I keep thinking about."
"Must've been terrifying for you, huh?"
"No, that's just it." I hear something press against something else. I peek out the door and Imani has Lamar pressed against a lamppost. Just then its light comes on, whether by coincidence or Lamar is again unknown. Her hands rest on his strong chest. "It was exhilarating. I can't get the sensation out of my head! Being lightning with you!" Lamar swallows hard. Neither of them notice me, focused on the person in front of them.
"Turning into electricity will do that to you," he tries to joke but Imani presses more of her body against his. My heart beats faster.
"It's always on my mind, that rush, that feeling of power. Please, let me feel that way again," she says.
"I only did that for an emergency, I don't feel comfortable doing that for no reason. Something could go wrong."
"What if I make you comfortable?" She slowly moves her face closer to his for a kiss. Something in me wants to scream out, like there's something terrible boiling in my stomach that can only escape from my mouth. But it's trapped by this awful tightness in my chest. Ardent yearning held back by an anxious knowing that this isn't right. That spying on them is wrong and it's not my place to interrupt. It's all my heart can take. I'm about to close my eyes to stop the stinging tears welling up.
"Wait," Lamar says. His hand between him and Imani. "The truth is...I'm gay," He admits, his scar lighting up…. Huh.
"Oh my!" Imani says, like she just realizes the position she's in. She backs off and give him space. I duck back behind the wall in case they notice me. "I'm so sorry. I should know better, all my parents taught me about boundaries and here I am ignoring them."
"It's not, I must've made you very uncomfortable. The opposite of my intention, believe me."
"Relax, I'm a superhero, I've been uncomfortable before. I forgive you, just y'know keep this between us."
"Thank you, I will." Lamar loudly clears his throat.
"Hey Jason!" In that one second I'm horrified to think he saw me. "You almost done in there?!" I try breathe a sigh of relief but my pulse is still running a mile a minute. I have to do something that shows I wasn't eavesdropping. I notice the hand dryer that I walked past and put my shirt under it in a feeble attempt to dry it off. The noise is loud enough that Lamar and Imani can hear it, but not loud enough to drown out the hammering of my heart from the information I just heard.
As calmly and straight-faced (poor timing) as I can, I walk out the bathroom I'm trespassing in.
Imani and Lamar gave the other a wide berth, I decide not to look at too closely. Sparing them any more embarrassment.
"I think it's good for now, but I'll wash it when I get home," I say, trying hard to keep my voice flat.
"Yeah that sounds- Are you good?" He asks me.
"Huh?" My voice cracks a bit more than I'd like.
"Your eyes," he points out. I didn't notice they welled up so much.
"Yeah the smell of that crap really got to me, I have a weak stomach to stuff like that," I fib.
"Oh, okay," he says sharply. His scar lights up again. Oh my god, how could I have been so stupid? Why am I just realizing that his scar lighting up is him blushing?! AM I THE DUMBEST IDIOT IN EXCELSIOR CITY?! HE'S BEEN BLUSHING THIS WHOLE TIME!
"Well I have an important thing in the morning," Imani says.
"I also have important Protagonist business to attend to," Lamar says. He's not good at making up excuses it seems.
"Yeah I'm all song'ed out. I'm gonna head home." We all stand there for a second or two. The awkward tension holds us there for what seems like an hour. Then we all go our separate ways.
HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP! I'm sitting on the train heading home with what I hope is a blank expression. Lamar is gay, holy crap what does this mean for me?
"Sounds like you got a shot with him," a girl says. I look at the seat opposite me. There's a girl in combat boots, ripped jeans, a black see-through mesh shirt, and a black leather jacket to complete her punk look. "Thank you, punk was the look I'm going for," she says. She's chewing gum and blows a large bubble. I look around the mostly empty train car in confusion.
"I'm talking to you in the wet shirt," she says. "I'm a Protagonist, I can read minds," she explains. "And you're practically yelling your internal narration. I couldn't help but overhear." She scratches the part in her hair between her blue and green afro pigtails.
"Oh, sorry," I offer.
" 'S no problem. More entertaining than what people usually think to themselves this late at night. More PG anyway," the girl says. "Don't call me 'the girl' name's Z but most of my friends call me SlickBack."
"I don't know you well enough to tell you that story or psychically implant it. So what's good, you gonna hook up with this Lamar guy or what?" She asks.
"Uhh, I don't know. It's complicated." I don't know if he wants to be in a relationship the way his life is right now. Oh crap she just heard all that.
"I did hear all that. And if that's the case then ease up I guess, but being in a relationship with someone who cares about you ain't the worst thing in the world." How would you know I care about him? "Dude, you're freaking yourself out, thinking about him on a train at night. It's a safe bet to say that you care about him," SlickBack says. She's got me there. "I do got you there."
The train starts to slow down.
"Listen, I'd love to chat and give obvious advice but my stop is coming up and I got my own Protagonist stuff to do. But you're cute, I'm sure this Lamar guy would be lucky to have you." The train stops and the doors open. She gets up but before she exits she taps my shoulder.
"You got a shot, Jason," she says. I never told her my name but I suppose that doesn't matter right now. She gets off.
I got a shot, huh?
"YEP!" SlickBack says loudly from outside the car. The train speeds away to take me home.
Chapter 3 End.
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