The coffee shop was packed when Juliet walked in, the low hum of voices and smell of fresh pastries instantly calming her. It was hard to believe that six months ago half of the building had been destroyed in a super-powered battle, a regular occurrence in Center Bay, the whole place looked exactly the same. In fact, the only change seemed to be that the owners had replaced the scuffed up black and white tiles with new ones. She looked towards the back corner of the store, towards the only booth that didn’t have a window, and saw familiar curly red hair. The image pulled her back to her college days, nearly two years ago today.
She had met Grayson Elliot freshman year in an introductory Communications class. His laid back attitude and quick smile made him Juliet’s opposite instantly, it had taken her only five seconds to deduce the boy didn’t care about anything. As someone without any superpowers in a power drenched society, Juliet had had to work hard to get to where she was at, she had no time to dally around with a slacker. Forgetting someone she thought would drop out by Thanksgiving was easy enough, which was why she was surprised to still see him in most of her Communications classes the next semester. It had taken a week to observe Grayson was early to all of their classes. Juliet was just curious enough to talk to him, to find out if maybe her first impression had been wrong. When she questioned him about his eagerness to learn, he had only smiled and said he had no where better to be. Her curiosity only grew when midterm grades showed Gray at the top of the class. Confused, she had asked him to this very cafe to study, to try to get to know him better.
One day turned into a week, which continued throughout their college careers. When she got an internship working in the newsroom at SuperHeroes United, the command central for all major superheroes in the United States, their sophomore year their weekly study date moved from everyday to every other day. Likewise, their topics of conversation moved from English classes to more personal matters. It wasn’t until their third year that Juliet finally acknowledged that Grayson had somehow became one of her closest friends, second only to her childhood friend Finn. Graduation had been a bittersweet event with promises of staying in contact, but neither had really sent more than a general update to the other every three months.
As she approached, she could see that Grayson hadn’t really changed much in those two years. He still wore a striped rugby polo, and while she couldn’t tell while he was sitting down, she knew that the shirt was slightly too short and he more than likely wore a pair of khaki cargo shorts, it had been his traditional outfit during school. His curly red hair was a mess on top of his head, even though he had managed to shave the sides off leaving the top long, now it flopped over his green eyes.
“Grayson, I can’t believe you came back!” She said in a way of greeting, then noticed the second coffee cup sitting opposite him. “I know I’m early, I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
His eyes squinted then widened in understanding, “I thought you might show up early, so I ordered for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
As she wormed her way into the black vinyl booth he pushed the cup closer to her. “Hazelnut white mocha latte, right?”
She nodded feeling a smile curve her lips. Juliet spooned off the whipped cream heaped on top of the sweet drink.
“I guess I forgot you don’t like whipped cream, I’ll order it without it next time.” He said. His green eyes watched as the spoon vanished in her mouth and proceeded to skim the remaining whipped cream off the latte.
“Why would you do that? I do like whipped cream.” She said. She caught his confused stare and continued, “I like my dessert first, plus, it makes it easier to drink.”
“How did I forget this?” He asked.
She shook her head, “You didn’t. I started eating the whipped cream first after college, and it just kind of became a habit.”
Grayson shrugged, Juliet mirrored the movement. When they caught each other’s eyes, they started laughing.
“It hasn’t been that long, Gray, everything is basically how you left it.” She said, after they had calmed down. At his smile, Juliet continued. “So, you found a job here in Center Bay and want to move in? I have to warn you, I do already have a roommate, Finn MacBane. Maybe you remember him, he went to CBC too, he graduated the same year as us with a degree in engineering.” Grayson shook his head, so she continued, “Oh well, you can come by later and check out our place and meet him at the same time, if you’d like. It’s three bedrooms, so you’d have your own space, but only one bathroom we share.”
He slowly nodded, the relaxed smile never left his face. “That sounds fine, better than a hotel room at least. I can drop by after work tomorrow if that’s okay?”
Juliet nodded and was about to ask what job Gray was now doing when his cell phone started ringing. He got up to take the call, leaving her to her thoughts about her new living situation. It would definitely be different having someone else living with her, especially since she had only lived with Finn for the last six years. But she was optimistic, especially since Finn didn’t seem to mind having someone else move in with them. In fact, when she had told him that Grayson was moving back to the city, he was the first to suggest he move in with them.
“I’m sorry, Juliet, that was the office. I really need to go, but I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” He said, the pout he sported showed that he really was sorry to be leaving.
She smiled and waved him off, “We can catch up tomorrow, I’ll text you my address.”
Juliet spent a few more minutes enjoying her coffee and the soothing atmosphere of the cafe before heading to the SuperHeroes United building. After completing her internship and graduating, SHU had offered her a job as a television personality. In her two years as an actual employee, Juliet had managed to snag her own news segment, Beyond the Mask, focusing on personal interviews with the superheroes of the city and their public projects, if they had any. Though, she still stood in as a news anchor when the station had an empty space, like today. While she would normally be going into the office today to meet with the spotlight hero and go over what questions would be asked the next day, Mrs. Ross, the station manager, had called Juliet earlier asking her to cover for an anchor who was out sick.
She greeted the officer posted in the main lobby of the SHU building, tonight it was Officer O’Connell that welcomed her to work. While she thought it was a little overboard to hire police officers to monitor the entrance of a building that housed superheroes, SHU took their security seriously. Officer O’Connell straightened up and smiled when he saw her. Juliet could only guess that his status as a newbie on the force got him stuck on lobby duty the majority of the time. While she was a little upset for him, surely this was not what he had signed up for, she was grateful she got to appreciate the handsome face and snug uniform before clocking in.
“Stuck here again, Officer O’Connell? You’ve practically been here all week.” She said.
He shrugged, “I don’t really mind, it’s my job to keep people safe. And how many times have I told you to call me Ronan?”
This time it was her turn to shrug. If she thought about it, she knew that Officer O’Connell had been asking her to call him his name practically since he had started working at SHU, but it felt odd referring to the man in uniform as anything other than ‘officer’. “But at superhero headquarters?”
Officer O’Connell gave a small half smile, “Everyone needs protecting, Miss Darcy. Even superheroes, I would think you would know that better than anyone.”
She opened her mouth to respond, to say she did know that, but she couldn’t force the words out. The memory of a raging inferno flashed through her mind, her smile faded.
“I’m sorry, Miss Darcy, I didn’t mean--.” She cut him off with a wave of her hand.
“It’s okay, it was a long time ago.” Juliet grabbed her left wrist, feeling more than hearing the click when she twisted it.
Officer O’Connell opened his mouth to say something else, but the elevator dinged behind her, signalling it’s arrival. She reassured the officer once more as she stepped into the small space and pressed the button for her floor. She watched as the silver doors slid shut on a sad face. She would make it up to him tomorrow, Juliet thought, if he got assigned SHU lobby duty again.
When she reached the sixth floor, home of the broadcast station, she was greeted by Elizabeth, the favorite intern of nearly the whole team.
“Here’s the news for the night, Miss Darcy.” She said, handing Juliet the green briefing folder.
. . .
“And we conclude tonight with our final story. As many are aware, Mercy Research and General Hospital was broken into earlier today. While nothing appears to have been stolen or damaged, the police are still going to open a full investigation with the help of the city’s newest superhero, Orange Comet. If you have any leads, please reach out to either the Center Bay Police or SuperHeroes United’s anonymous tips line. This is Juliet Darcy signing off, until tomorrow goodnight Center Bay.” She concluded.
Once the green light on the camera turned red, Juliet let out a huge breath and dropped her smile. Being a television personality demanded she appeared pleasant on screen, a hard task when she was burning up under the harsh studio lights and starving. Thankfully, Elizabeth rushed to her carrying a bottle of water and granola bar.
“Tomorrow night, Mrs. Ross set up an interview with Orange Comet for Beyond the Mask. You’ll have to be ready to air by noon, but should still be done by two. He should be on the tenth floor now, if you’d like to meet him beforehand.” She said.
Juliet responded with an affirmative while she packed up her stuff to leave, though she really did not want to meet the new hero. In fact, the only thing she did want to do right now was go home and stuff her face with the dinner that Finn was no doubt preparing right now. But, as an intern once before, she knew that Elizabeth’s polite suggestion had actually been a command from Mrs. Ross, the station manager. Even if she had filled in tonight, she would still be expected to do her own segment tomorrow.
Fortunately, there was hardly anyone else in the building this late at night, so the elevator ride was short. The receptionist on the tenth floor pointed her to Orange Comet’s public relations liaison first. Since this wasn’t Juliet’s first time conducting a superhero interview the liaison simply handed her a list of pre-approved topics and the questions that Orange Comet himself had marked as completely off limits then pointed her towards the superhero’s private office.
Juliet paused in front of the indicated door. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it really, just a simple wooden door with a bronze scuff guard at the bottom, it matched the countless other doors on this floor. She absentmindedly started twisting her left wrist, the soft clicking the a reminder of what happened in a similar office only two years ago. It was odd that the memory decided to make itself known now, she thought, she worked in this building everyday and managed not to think about the accident. It probably had something to do with her earlier conversation with Officer O’Connell, she thought. Proud of herself for not feeling even slightly panicked, she took a deep breath and focused back to the task at hand. Once she met Orange Comet and briefed them on what questions she would ask, she was free to go home and enjoy dinner. Juliet knocked. She was greeted by silence on the other side of the door, only emphasized by the fact that she was holding her breath straining to hear anything.
Since SuperHeroes United buildings were known to be some of the most secure in the world, it was believed that some heroes decided to go mask-less in their personal offices. But that was just a rumor, and even if it wasn’t Juliet knew better than to enter the office without any invitation, even if she was expected. A glance at the bottom of the door showed there were lights on inside the room. Growing impatient, she knocked again.
Just as she turned away, she heard the door handle twist. The small crack in the door was filled with bright orange, slowly she looked up to his face. A blood red mask covered the upper half of his head only showing his sharp jawline and frowning lips. Even his eyes were covered, the part of his mask that covered them shining differently in the fluorescents, most likely made out of a fine mesh that only he could see through.
“Miss Darcy?” His voice was gruff and surprised, like he had just woke up. She frowned, she knew she should have seen Orange Comet earlier for the briefing, but it wasn’t her fault she got called in to play substitute news anchor.
“Orange Comet, nice to meet you.” She said, sticking out her hand.
He opened the door wider, ignoring her hand. Before the door shut she caught a glimpse of a cot and civilian clothing spread across the floor. “I’m actually about to go on patrol with some of the team, so if we could make this quick.”
“Are you living in your office?” She asked. Her surprise turned off the filter between her brain and her mouth before she could think if it was professional to ask or not.
His lips thinned out, “That’s none of your business. Thank you for stopping by Miss Darcy, but I should really be going now. Keeping the city safe and all that jazz.”
“I’m sorry, but we really need to go over the questions for tomorrow.” She rushed to say.
He brushed past her. Juliet was left standing there confused on what just happened.
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