Chapter 17: Testing the bonds of friendship
“Shh. My common sense is tingling.”
~ Wade Wilson (Deadpool)
It was Monday, the last normal day of school before testing. Our school did testing week like most public schools. One day of normal school for last minute studying, and then the rest for testing. Two classes a day with two hours each for the test. This meant that we had half days the rest of the week, something I was looking forward to.
But, first, I had to get through Monday.
“Morning, Oliver.” Ian greeted as I sat down next to him for pre-calculus. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, his voice was a bit stiff, and he called me by my full name for once instead of just Olly.
Something was wrong.
“Hey, dude, are you alright?” I asked hesitantly.
He tapped his fingers on his table and shrugged his shoulders. “Not really.”
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. “Okay, what is it?”
He turned to look at me, narrowing his eyes. “Where did you go the other day with Elsie and Aden?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
He took a deep breath and looked down again. “You said you were going to finish a project in the library during lunch, but then you come back halfway through AP Biochemistry with ash in your hair.”
“So, what? The extra credit project took a bit longer than expected.” I defended, getting worrisome.
“I asked the teacher. You never got an extra credit assignment for English, besides, Oliver Storm doesn’t need extra credit. You have one of the highest GPAs in the grade. And that still doesn’t explain the ash in your hair.”
I sighed, playing at ignorance. “I may have a high GPA, but not high enough for certain colleges. I need to be able to get into a good college on a full ride scholarship, you know I do, dude. And the back corner of the library is falling apart, you know that. The dust from the ceiling always rains down on kids.”
“Are you sure?” He asked. “Because that same day, at around the same time, White Lightning, Kratos, and Delinquent all fought Inferno downtown. It would make sense, I mean, your boss at the Comic Book Shop was Daniel Jackson, and so I should have seen it from the beginning. Plus, you start inviting that freshmen and his friend to our table out of the blue, right around the time White Lightning got his new sidekick. I don’t know what to think, dude.”
I panicked. I knew that one day Ian might find out who I was, but it was still unnerving to be faced with the fact.
“You think I’m White Lightning?” I laughed it off. “Ian, you know me. Why would I keep such a big secret from you? Besides, most of the time I’m at work when White Lightning makes his saves. And, remember that time I was literally at your house when it was reported that White Lightning saved a woman form being robbed? I’m not White Lightning, Ian. You’re just being paranoid, and the stress from finals weeks is probably just getting to you.”
I did have to say, I played it off very convincingly.
Part of being a hero was having good alibis, not just pieces of paper that say you’re at work. So, fabricating stories of saves while Daniel and I had alibis was an integral part of keeping our identities safe.
After all, that was superhero rule #1 – Never let anyone know your identity, ever.
Ian shook his head and looked down. “Man, I guess.”
I smiled and patted him on the back. “See, don’t you think if I was White Lightning I would’ve beat up those kidnappers who took us a month ago? I would probably use those superpowers to get myself out of class too.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it, Olly. I’ve just been stressed out lately.” Ian agreed.
I let out a breath. Man, I had just dodged a huge bullet. I trusted Ian with my life, but no one could know who I was. When you told people your secret identity, they could get hurt. The less the people closest to you knew, the better.
Villains will use anyone close to you to get what they want.
I grinned. “Yeah, now let’s spend our last school day with as little stress as possible.”
It still surprised me that Olly knew Calico. I mean – I knew that he and The Marvel were in contact because of when they both saved me from Andromeda, but I didn’t know that meant he knew other famous supers as well.
And the whole MASKED thing seemed weird to me. Apparently they already knew who I was. They kept track of the Olly through his security cameras in the Man Cave, definitely not creepy. So, they obviously knew about who I was and who Aden was.
But what Calico had said about Andromeda’s powers stuck with me. If you had to drain someone’s energy, you would have to spend a lot of time with them. And, which people do you spend the most time around? Boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, and family. I figured that Andromeda didn’t have any family with her. If she moved to DC with the purpose of killing supers like some sort of assassin for hire, then she wouldn’t want any ties with her. Family would make things more complicated.
So, whoever she was using as her victim was either a significant other or best friend. But since it was hard to make best friends in only a couple of months, I figured that one could be ruled out.
When Calico had been describing what Andromeda did and the effects of what she did, I could see it in her eyes. Regret and anger. I was willing to bet that she was the victim back in Empire City. It would make perfect sense. Andromeda would use someone close to Sonic if she was so obsessed with killing her. I figured Andromeda had seduced Calico, maybe got her to tell a couple secrets about Sonic or the rest of the League of Legends, and used her as leverage.
The way Andromeda’s powers worked, it would make sense that she would get close to someone romantically. And it just so happened that I knew a mysterious new girl hanging around a depressed and drained friend.
“Mary!” I yelled, catching up to her in the hallway.
Yes, I knew it was almost impossible that a super villain, especially the one out to get us, was so close. But, it happened in Empire City and it happened to Peter Parker. Not to mention Aden’s whole situation with Dylan possibly being Inferno. And if she really knew who Olly was, then it would make sense that she would enroll herself into Eldredge Academy and insert herself into our friend group.
“Oh, Elise.” She greeted softly.
We had just come from lunch, where Ian and Oliver were barely talking and Mary was being a recluse. I couldn’t talk to her about it then, but now that we were away from our friends, I was hoping she would speak to me about it.
“Mary, I was hoping we could, you know, hang out after school today. I have something cool I want to show you.” I urged.
She looked down and shook her head. “I can’t. I promised Nicole that I would go shopping with her today. She said it might lift my spirits because of testing and all.”
“Yeah, but we always go out together. We haven’t been anywhere in weeks.” I tried convincing her.
Mary furrowed her eyebrows. “Weren’t you the one who told me to follow my heart?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I really like Nicole. And I think she likes me to.” Mary said defiantly.
She finally said it out loud. It took me forever to see her admit to herself about being bi, and now she was saying it out loud. I would’ve been proud of her if it wasn’t for the fact that I suspected Nicole was the reason she had been so down and disheveled lately.
I sighed. “I’m happy for you, Mary, I really am, but ever since she showed up, you’ve been acting different.”
She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “How do you mean?” This was the largest amount of words I’d gotten out of her all month, and they weren’t the usual hyper ones I’d hoped for.
“I mean, you haven’t been yourself. You’re talking less, you’re not hyper, and you aren’t even talking about how hot White Lightning is anymore! Hell, you’ve even stopped eating your salads! Your hair isn’t styled, and your outfit isn’t ironed. You’re not even wearing makeup, something that you haven’t done since you discovered mascara in middle school. We’re all worried about you, Mary. And I think Nicole had something to do with it.”
Mary’s eyes suddenly darkened. “What? You think just because I’ve smartened up that I must be depressed or something? Nicole opened my eyes. Not all superheroes are noble, most are actually jerks. And, if anything, Nicole is the one making me feel better. When I’m around you guy at school, all I feel is empty, but when I’m with her, I’m suddenly better. I don’t think it’s me that’s changed, it’s you all. You guys are the ones draining the life out of me.”
I gasped. I’d never heard Mary say anything so rude before. Usually Mary was the optimist of our little group, the glue that held us together. Now she was being hostile, blaming us for her recent low spirits.
“Mary, listen to yourself! You’re speaking nonsense! You’ve been obsessed with supers since we were in diapers. We’ve been best friends for years, I know this. Just because some girl comes around is no reason to change that!”
“Well maybe she’s changing me for the better then.” Mary countered. “Maybe I needed her to show me the light.”
“She’s not showing you the light, she’s dragging you into the darkness!” I argued.
Mary shook her head and backed away from me. “You’re wrong, Elise. Have fun with your ignorant life. Go one worshipping the supers like I once did. Go on blindly. Maybe it’s not too late for you to see the light as well. Don’t go trying to find me until you’ve figured it out.”
The warning bell rang and I had no choice but to let Mary walk away or I’d be late to my next class.
Our argument had turned a couple heads, which I blatantly ignored as I walked off to American History.
Ten minutes into class, Ian turned to me, “So, you and Mary having problems?”
I sighed. News traveled quickly in a private school full of Washington’s elite. “Yeah. I confronted her about the whole Nicole situation. Let’s just say that she fired back at me – harshly. I’m not being paranoid, something is up with that girl. She isn’t a good influence on Mary.”
Ian nodded in agreement. “Well, that sounds just like Oliver and I today.”
“Why?” I asked, suddenly curious.
He laughed a little. “I confronted him to, but I was met with less hostility. You know how Olly is, he blew off my assumptions with a smile and reassurance. Let’s just say that I thought he was someone he’s not.”
Ian confronted Oliver about being White Lightning, I was sure of it. Olly was stressed with controlling his new sidekick, hero work, and finals week. He wasn’t being as careful about his identity as he normally would be, of course Ian would figure it out. I worried for their friendship now, Olly couldn’t go on lying to him forever.
“It seems like the both of us are having friendship problems today.” I commented, avoiding actually commenting on what he accused Oliver of.
“Yeah.” He sighed. “It seems like it.”