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The next day hit like a media hurricane. A flood of a information concerning the events of last night bursting from every media source in the city and beyond. Posters with the faces of the perpetrators swarming stretches of telephone poles down the avenue. Newspapers with headlines like “Journalist saves Gifted Minor from Brutal Attacks”, radio channels reading out my police statements. In the square, gigantic jumbotrons showing the acts of hate against the teen that I’d photographed.
I walked through the square toward The Times building, all the while catching people’s eye. My newfound inability to blend in, somewhat unwelcome by these newly prying eyes. Walking into my building, I was greeted with smiles, greetings, handshakes. People of all or any abilities giving me praise for my deeds.
“What is wrong with you?!” Izzie snarls as she slaps a rolled newspaper against the top of my head. I turn in my desk chair to find her standing behind me, her shoulders coiled and her face pink with anger. “You could have gotten killed!”
“I’m sorr-” I start.
“Can you please-“
slap slap slap slap slap
“Stop!” I say, hovering my hands over my head for protection. “I’m fine.”
“The perps are still on the loose, Claire!” Izzie stamps a foot on the ground. “They could be plotting revenge.”
“They were kids, Iz, not Bond villains.” I reply with a snicker, sending her even farther into her fury.
“Not. The. Point.” She says, adding three more slaps. “That kid is still in the hospital, they’re dangerous.”
She unfurls the newspaper and drops in onto my desk. On the very bottom of the front page is the article with a link to a second page. It contains all of the same information as other sources, except for on the second page. Just above the body copy of the article sits a photo from the bird’s eye perspective of the crime scene, like the reader is looking down upon the alley. It captures me, with Shawn lying against me, as well as the two young men running toward the inner corner of the alleyway leading to another street.
“What is it?” Izzie asks, confused by my sudden interest.
“Hey, did you know if they got this photo from the street light security camera by the scene?” I ask, pointing a finger at it.
“Don’t think so,” She leans closer to inspect it. “but I did hear that the police questioned a janitor that was working on the 3rd floor of one of the buildings at the time.”
I ponder the possibilities for a second before going back to my outline from the previous workday. Working through the outline, I continue detailing the aesthetic of the GVRNMNT building, Mr Forrester and his working environment and mainly focusing on his comments. Debating whether or not a reference to Huntsman’s brief, yet prevalent appearance at the meeting was necessary to make note of.
• • • •
By the end of the work week Izzie makes it a point to order me a car home. I take it without a fuss but demand that I pay for it. When I arrive, I gather my mail and flop onto my queen-sized bed. Shrugging off my black jeans and blouse and pulling on a long, old university hoodie. I check my phone for any updates on the assailants whereabouts or the young victim’s condition. No change.
My arm slouches back down onto the bed, the softness of my comforter under me, pulling me into it. My eyes grow heavy and I let them close, if only for a moment. I feel myself sink down, through a slow descent.
Envisioning myself floating down through my bed, through the floorboards, down all the way through miles and miles of thick, viscous liquid. Feeling like my limbs are stiff and immobile. Sinking down through the ocean floor, the bedrock and beyond. Faint whispers call me, weaving soft lullabies with their words, pulling me farther and father down. A second voice tries to pull me away from the others. A woman, whispering urgently, calling me, her voice fighting against the others. Inaudible whispers rise to muted cries, the voice growing closer, louder, more desperate. Their words turning to sobs, screams, yet, indistinguishable. Instantly, the beckoning whispers silence and my ears are filled with the woman’s hysterical shrieks. Her voice close enough that it could be inside my own head. I start to open my eyes and see that the voice is coming from my own mother. She claws at me from a few feet away, terror in her eyes. I try to reach her but my arms are lifeless, stiff in their place. I do my best to speak to her, but nothing comes from my lips. Her screams stop as her eyes find mine, and they’re replaced with the deafening roar of a gunshot as it enters her chest, and exits out through the other side.
My body springs itself awake. My lungs pleading for air, tears streaming down my face. I sit up and dry my tears, my hands shaking. My apartment now cloaked in complete darkness, I convince myself it was just a dream. I get up and walk to my kitchen sink. My legs steadying with every step, my hand turns the tap and I drink a glass of water, looking out at the bright city lights.
I place the empty glass in the sink and turn back around to suddenly see an outside hand pressing the window above my bed open. My blood runs like ice through my body. First, I see an arm, then a shoulder and a head. In seconds, the silhouette of a large man silently enters my apartment. It’s then that I realize that I am hidden in the darkness just as he is, and my head points me directly toward the baseball bat leaning up against the edge of my door. My steps are silent as I curl my shaking hand around the knob of the bat and approach the intruder. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness before his have and he seems to be looking around the room as I grow nearer. Curving the bat behind my head, my last step lands on a creaking floorboard and suddenly, the figure turns and I beam the bat across their neck and shoulders as hard as I possibly can, causing them to fall against the wall, but in turn, causing my bat to bounce off of them. I back away as they recover and turn on the light, revealing a tall, masked man in a tactical suit.
Huntsman turns to me with bewildered surprise and no sign of any damage.
“Ow.” He says, rubbing his neck, like this whole situation is trivial.
I stand on shaking legs with my bat extended toward him. “You-..?”
“Claire?” He asks, stepping toward me with a sincere grin, completely dismissing the baseball-bat.
I swing the bat as a warning, now that I realize I’m not fully clothed and somewhat vulnerable. “Why are you in my apartment?” I ask, more like a threat than a question.
He stops in his tracks, his grin fading and notices my hands trembling. “Okay, just calm down.”
“Answer me.” I swing again, closer this time.
“I… heard reports that two men were casing this building using the fire escape.” He says, putting his gloved hands up in a cease fire. My breath catches and my hands shake so much that I nearly drop the bat. “I was just making sure it wasn’t the same two from last night.”
I look him over for any bad signs and start putting the pieces together, lowering my bat.
“Jesus, I could have killed you.”
“I don’t know about that..” He jokes looking at my tiny shaking body, pushing past my bat and coming in closer. “What’s with the bat anyway?”
“I had some issues with a past neighbour…” My sentence trails off, I take a few laboured breaths. “God, you really freaked me out.”
Letting myself come out shock, I press my back against a wall, my lungs demanding air. Huntsman’s suit reverts back out of his tactical gear and he comes a little closer.
“Hey whoa, you’re hyperventilating.” He says. “Just relax, you’re ok. Everything’s fine.”
His gloves revert away and he plants his bare hands on my shoulders.
I nod and follow his instructions, his eyes locked on mine. “Slow controlled breaths. In, out, in, out.”
My breathing evens out and he smiles, his green eyes gentle under his long eyelashes and he smooths his thumbs over my shoulders. “There, all better.”
“Thanks.” I admit, finding myself sending a weak smile back and flickering between his eyes.
“Wa- hey, whoa, wait just a second.” I interrupt the bizarre mood between us, knocking his hands off of me and throwing mine up. “You still haven’t explained why you are currently inside my apartment.”
He bites his lip and shrugs awkwardly. “Yeah, fair enough… I’m sorry I scared you, but I knocked on the door and you didn’t answer.”
“How did you know that I lived here?” I ask, brows knit together. “Have you been following me?”
He puffs his cheeks up an and avoids eye contact. “Nnnno?”
I cross my arms and grit my teeth together.
“Okay, maybe a little, but not like in a creepy Buffulo-Bill-it-puts-the-lotion-on-it’s-skin way, more in like a romantic, making-sure-your-blood-and-organs-stay-inside-your-body kind of way.”
“Very romantic. You know, I didn’t think lurking in the shadows was part of your job description.” I say with an eye roll. “Look, I don’t need a babysitter. I can take care of myself.”
“Yes… I can see that.” Huntsman says as he eyes my bat. He pulls his phone from a pocket on his belt and shows me the same perspective photo that was printed in the newspaper.
“You were there? So that’s how you knew about it.” I ask, grasping the phone for a better look, when I glance back for an answer, his blowfish face is present yet again, giving me my answer.
“Why did you send these pictures in?” I ask pulling the edges of my sweater down.
“I… just thought the world should see one of its real heroes for once.” He replies, batting my arm with an honest smile.
“Thanks.” I say, giving him back the phone and a deliberating grin on whether or not he’s being sincere. “And like I said, you can cool it with the stalking. I’m not going to give Forrester any bad press in the article or anything.”
“Oh, Forrester didn’t ask me to follow you.” Huntsman replies.
“Then why…” I start.
“I like you, Claire.” He smiles innocently. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Funny,” I give him a pity laugh. “but seriously…”
When he doesn’t answer, I laugh again, waiting for him to give me a real reason. When I get none, my grin fades.
“You.” I start, pointing a finger at him and then to myself. “Are into-“
He simply nods and reverts every bit of his suit away his body, apart from his mask.
“No way.” I shake my head, taking a step back against the wall again.
He crosses his arms with an offended laugh. “Is that so hard to believe?”
“Yea-, well yes, actually…” I stutter, starting to spiral. Not fully understanding any of this. “Look, we’re not exactly in the same league.”
“Really?” He scoffs, almost like he’s offended. “You think I’m afraid of going after a girl way out of my league?”
“Stop doing that.” I wag a finger at him, pretending I didn’t hear what he just said.
“Doing what?” He asks.
“Doing that thing you’re doing. Trying to be charming or whatever.” I hiss, trying my best to shoo him away and keep my cheeks from turning bright red. “I mean come on, look at you, your shoulders look like mountains, one of your arms is the size of my entire body.”
He gives me a dubious look, then examines his arm to compare.
I shrug in denial and shift my eyes away from him. “Just look at me-”
He takes a step toward me and I’m afraid I may have actually offended him. But instead, he carefully pulls my hood down, letting my long blonde hair spill out.
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