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“I know it’s cliché,” I say, the irritation present in my voice. “but seriously, take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
I turn to face him as we wait for the elevator to arrive, but it’s a shock when he laughs. Like, out loud.
“Sorry.” He says, leaning his palms against his knees in laughter, his voice as infuriatingly hot as I thought it would be. Energetic, but with a rough quality to it. “It’s just–“
“It’s just, what?” I say, crossing my arms and copying his tone.
“I’m kind of a fan of yours,” He smiles honestly and folds his hands beyond his back and leaning in closer.
A mixed feeling of surprise and guilt runs through me at the discovery.
“Claire Wallace: Journalist, Activist, Gifted-Citizen Sympathizer.” He says, spanning his arms in both direction like he’s envisioning my name is on a billboard. His smile extends to his eyes as he steps a little closer and gestures to himself. “Standing up for the little guy.”
“Oh… thank you.” I reply sheepishly. “But, I wouldn’t really describe this to be the little guy.” He chuckles again as my hands display how he towers over me.
The elevator dings again to signal its arrival and we both enter.
As the doors close and we begin to descend, I take my tablet out and confirm all the recordings and notes are correct. As I put it back away, I notice him staring again as he stands next to me. My irritation starts to bubble again until I can’t hold it anymore.
“Dude, what is with the staring?” I ask, spitefully.
“Beautiful things are meant to be looked at, aren’t they?” He says casually.
I pause for a second in an expression of disgust and he erupts into another bout of laughter. “Yikes, tough crowd!”
My face burns in embarrassment as I grip the strap of my messenger bag. “I can’t imagine that line ever working with a single one of your hundreds of conquests.” I say.
“Hundreds, huh? The media sure is getting creative.” He chuffs. His tone sounds truthful like he doesn’t know about the reputation he has. The wild rumours of abundant women around him at all times. Teammates, fans, even going as far to say that GVRNMNT officials might have gotten a little too close.
Eventually, we reach the 92nd Floor again and Huntsman presents the same key-fob as before, eagerly continuing his new-found hobby.
“Hey man, if you’re gonna gawk at me the whole time, you might as well give me a better pickup line than your last.” I joke, but he deliberates on the idea for a moment.
“As much as I would love to, I’m not sure your boyfriend would like that.” He probes, crossing his arms behind his back and giving me the side eye.
“And as much as I would love to say otherwise.” I sigh, roll my eyes and count the seconds until the elevator doors open. “No, no boyfriend.”
“Oh.” He says, nodding his head. He bites his lip and celebrates by (un)subtly curling his hand into a fist and jerking his elbow backwards. “I see. That is interesting.”
Before I can roll my eyes another ten times, the elevator dings alerting me that we have reached the lobby.
“Well, thanks for… whatever this was but I can manage from here.” I say flatly preparing to step out once the doors open.
“Oh no, I can walk you to the door.” He offers with a hint of sincerity in his tone.
Immediately, the doors fly open and one by one, people spot Huntsman and begin to approach the elevator from across the lobby in fits of both rage and adoration.
“Uh oh, looks like I’m compromised for the time being.” Huntsman smiles as the hordes of people grow. I feel him gently plant his hand on the small of my back and he walks with me out of the elevator. My stomach churns as I feel the exact location of his finger tips. We stop and he removes his hand, stepping back inside the elevator as we turn to face each other.
“I’ll see you around, Claire.” He smiles with a wink, ignore the growing crowds as the doors roll closed.
• • • •
“If you’re lying, I will literally never speak to you again.” My assistant, Izzie, threatens as she hangs my bag on the hook next to my desk, paying no mind to the rustling and bustling of the writer’s room. “I’m telling the truth, he was the real Huntsman.”
She loops a thick strand of her short, brown curly hair between her fingers. “Was he cute? Energetic? Playful?”
“He’s not a dog, Iz. And to be honest, he was kind of annoying.” I reply, as she passes the tablet from the bag. “He was all tall, and dark and handsome, but I mean really, who even likes that kind of thing anymore?”
Izzie stares blankly at me like I’m taking crazy pills. “Yeah totally. Hot superheroes are so last year.”
“Well, he’s a smooth talker, I’ll give him that.” I say. “Makes me think the tabloids might not be too far from the truth.”
“Oh my god, did he hit on you!?” Izzie leans over my desk in excitement. “Are you two already dating? Does he have a brother? When’s the wedding? I can arrange the caterer! Can I be your maid of honour? Also, does he have a brother?“
“Iz, breathe.” I bring her back to reality and gesture to myself. “No, he obviously didn’t hit on me…”
She connects the wireless keyboard to my tablet and bites her lip. “…but?”
“But,” I roll my eyes. “he did say that he was kind of a fan of my work.”
Izzie lets out a high pitch squeal and the employees at their desks nearby look over in irritation as I slap a hand over her mouth.
“Are you trying to get us fired?” I whisper harshly and she shakes her head.
“Are you going to write about him too?” She asks in a whisper. “Are you going to see him again?!”
The notion strikes me as a surprise, but not necessarily as a bad idea.
“It might be nice for the public to get to know a high-ranking gifted citizen as more than just a soldier.” Izzie suggests.
I say nothing, but store the thought in the bad of my mind.
For the next few hours, we sit at my desk as Izzie giggles in between taking my calls and drones on and on about the hot male SPCTER Agents and how she’d rank them on a scale of ‘just plain hot’ to ‘hotter than the the heat of 1000 dying suns’.
I begin writing the outline about today’s meeting with Mr. Forrester and what they plan to do about the rising amount of protests against gifted people. I listen to the playback and hear the present irritation in my voice and cringe a little, reliving Huntsman’s shameless advances that have no right to be directed at a plain looking girl like me.
“Linear is definitely a cutie, but far too young for me. And he can’t go anywhere without getting mobbed.”
“The same thing happened to Huntsman when he escorted me downstairs.” I add. “People just swarmed him.”
“You’re lucky there weren’t any paparazzi there.” Izzie says. “They can make your life a nightmare.”
“My life already is a nightmare, Iz.” I say as I pull an envelope from my mail that is scratched and scrawled in red with death threats. She angrily grabs and shreds it into the trash.
“But still, isn’t it so strange that we treat them like celebrities?” I add. “They’re soldiers, just with powers and flashy outfits.”
“That’s right.” She replies. “And the media only seems to follow the same group.”
“Oh, what about Bastion? I looove the quiet, serious type.” She says, wistfully planting her hands under her chin.
“He wouldn’t even need to fight, you’d probably chat him to death.” I tease, and the two of us chuckle at the thought of a 6’2″ high-ranking defense-gifted soldier falling down dead due only to Izzie’s chatty tendencies.
• • • •
After work, I leave my neighbourhood’s metro station and begin walking to my building. The night air now cool and damp. The bright, passing lights of the bodegas and the cheap electronic stores leaving kaleidoscope-like indents in my eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot motion just inside an alleyway. Two young men, kicking and beating a boy a few years younger. A variation of the Ahnenerbe insignia, clear on the back of their shirts, a clear sign of illegal gifted-citizen protest. I take a photo of the beatings for proof and quickly call the police to describe the acts and that I need an ambulance before running over to them, pepper spray in hand.
“Hey!” I scream, the poor boy now nearly incoherent. “Let him go.”
One of the kids turns to me with malice in his eyes. “Keeping walking, b***h.”
“Wait, that’s that pro-freak journalist! She sent your older brothers to jail.” The other says.
I stand strong with my pepper spray extended toward them with my hand on the trigger as they boy groans in pain. “You wanna join them?”
“You f***n’ w***e.” The other one growls as he approaches me. I grab my phone and quickly snap photos of their faces before I spray their eyes. They fall to their knees and screech, then charge around the corner of the alley and disappear into the night.
I steady my breath and wait a beat to make sure they’re gone before I drop to the ground to help the injured boy. His eye is starting to swell shut, there’s blood running down his nose and it looks like he may have a punctured lung or possibly even broken a rib.
“Can you speak?” I ask, propping him up on my knee. “What’s your name?”
“What happened, Shawn?”
“They followed me home.” He gets out, every word erupting in squeaks and gasps. “Took me down, dragged me in here.”
“How did they know you were gifted?” I ask.
“They go to my school…” He says. “I’m a freshman, they’re seniors.”
I shake my head in disbelief as I look for any sign of our ambulance.
“Shawn, I have an ambulance on the way. You’re gonna be okay, alright?”
“What if they come after you?” He squeaks, squeezing my arm.
“Don’t worry. I’m not scared of some dumb two-bit thugs.” I smile.
The sirens of the ambulance whirl around the corner and the paramedics put him on a gurney. I stay with him until they load him up and head to the hospital. I give my statement to the police and give the officer the photos as proof of the assault as well as being tied to a pre-meditated hate crime.
When I get home, I lock my door carefully and survey the apartment thoroughly. It being a bachelor apartment, the task is not a difficult one. My steel baseball bat plainly propped up next to my door.
Lastly, before I put this whole day to bed, I open the photos on my phone and print the picture of both of the kids’ faces. The look of horror apparent in their eyes after they realized that their actions wouldn’t be accepted this time.
I take the print and stick it on my wall next to the other few.
Noting it, not yet a large change, but another small victory.
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