Friday went without much incident. Other than the usual dirty looks, the gangs didn’t do much. I guess by now they’d seen the news and knew I had backup. Probably eyeing the school in case ‘White Lady’, or the much speculated Esper I was working with, or both, might be in the school.
I managed to confirm a ride with Cassie to Dad’s, and even gave Ferne a glance that I was sure no one else noticed. I wouldn’t know until after school if she did.
Gym had settled into a routine of the coach ordering the other students around while I worked out. They actually made me sign a waiver to use the gym equipment alone, something about spotters and how not having one could get you killed. By the time the bell rang, I was more bored than anything.
“So, what are you up to?” That would be Alex.
“One thirty five.” Considering Alex could bench twice that, I felt more than a little self conscious. I picked up my stuff, using that as an excuse to look away. “Yeah, I know, I suck.”
“That’s another fifteen pounds since Monday. Forty since you started.” He sounded impressed. “Christ, Zach. Sure, some of it’s just getting used to the equiment, but there are people who inject steroids into their balls just hoping to see a fraction of the improvement you’re getting. That is such bullshit.”
Not nearly bullshit enough. “Wait. People shoot that stuff into their nuts? Does that even work?” How could people do that? I cringed at the mere thought of it.
“I dunno, probably works the same as any other spot.” Alex shrugged, looking back toward the door. “I’m not exactly an expert, but honestly you can’t play sports without picking up a few things.”
Well, that makes sense. “Have you ever tried? Not the balls thing, just in general?”
“Never.” Alex answered without hesitation. “I get the temptation, but no. Always someone saying they got the newest Gadget drug that’s guaranteed to work without you getting busted. But I want to go pro, and there’s scary good Espers watching. Too much money involved for them not to. Teams don’t want to invest millions in someone just to see them disgraced in the first game of the season. If you aren’t squeaky, you don’t have a career.”
“Yeah, I get it.” I started toward the door. Cassie would be waiting. “Even if you can bribe your way past the official watchdogs, there’s always gonna be someone out there watching for cheats.”
“It’s pretty easy to spot, too,” Alex agreed, following right behind. “They don’t really look as hard at college ball until the recruiters start getting serious, so every year there’s two or three guys that had a pro career waiting for them who just… don’t. Sudden off-field injuries, or claiming they were in it for the scholarship. Happens in every sport, not just football.”
I just stayed quiet. I was never exactly a sports fan. Dad always tried to ‘fix’ that, but they just weren’t my thing.
“The worst part is they get that far before being busted,” Alex continued his venting. “How many guys had a shot, but didn’t get it because someone cheated them? I have to think about that every time I’m on the field.”
I may not know sports, but the fear of having something important stolen was universal. “That’s just fucked up.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to the human race.” Alex’s chuckle did not sound cheerful. “I try to think of it as a challenge. Remember what I said about finding ways to push the body past its limits? Well, getting pissed is a good way to do that. As long as you don’t let it control you, anger’s a tool, a fire to be harnessed. Something to keep you driven when you’re ready to just give up.”
“Well, if your football career doesn’t pan out, you’re still the best recruiter a Sith lord could ever hope for.”
“Come to the dark side,” Alex rasped. “All our women wear leather. So do all our men, if that’s what you’re into.”
I laughed. “Well, I’m sold.” All joking aside, I had to admire his point about using anger. I’d been spending so much time lately just trying to stay on my feet that I’d almost lost sight of the goal. If getting mad helped, well, I wasn’t lacking for reasons to get mad.
Cassie wasn’t far from the gym entrance, so the conversation didn’t go any further. She was posed with a hand on her hip, and an attempt at a frown that instead just ended up being a smirk. “Stop trying to steal my boyfriend.”
“What makes you think I have to try?” Alex was really good at doing that whole ‘smug smile’ thing.
Cassie was a pretty good actress, herself. If you didn’t know her, you might even think she looked mad. “Bitch, am I gonna have to claw your eyes out?”
I couldn’t help but smile at their act. “This might be a stupid question, but shouldn’t I get a say in this?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Cassie cooed, putting her arms around me. “It is a stupid question.”
Alex cleared his throat. “And that’s why I’m staying single. You kids have fun, I’m going to get ready for game night.”
I reluctantly looked away from Cassie. “Well, at least one of us gets to kick some ass this weekend.” They were already going to playoffs anyway, having already won eight of their nine games. But if they got this one, they’d be one of only three schools that got that close to a perfect season. So this game was a big deal. “Sorry I can’t make it.”
I could have, if I’d asked Dad he would have been all for it. But between Ferne only having tonight open, and wanting a chance to get some alone time with Cassie, I couldn’t justify it.
“Nah, I’d rather you didn’t.” I couldn’t quite read his smile. “I mean, what you’re doing is more important. Football’s just a game. You’re out there saving lives.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” I’d come to learn Alex waxed philosophical when the pressure was on, that was just his way of dealing. “Yeah, you’re right. Screw showing support for my friends.” Kinda like mine was being a smartass.
Alex slumped his shoulders. “My heart is broken. I’ll just have to content myself with with becoming a sport star and being richer, more famous, and better looking than you.”
“Way to take all the fun out of it, asshole,” I laughed. “That’s okay, being a hero has its own rewards.” I squeezed Cassie and gave her a kiss, making it last a few seconds. PDA was supposedly banned in the school, but try telling that to all the condom wrappers around here.
“I’ll remember to think of you when I’ve got all my supermodel girlfriends.” Alex’s monotone rivaled Ferne’s for complete lack of fucks given.
“See, now, this is why I avoid the locker showers when you’re around.”
That’s when Cassie cut in. “Boys, you can stop flirting now. Or at least give me a few minutes to get a good camera to film the action. My cell’s got shit resolution.”
“Yeah, I get it, cutting into ‘couples’ time. I’ll see you two on Monday.”
Alex turned and jogged off, leaving me alone with my girlfriend. Or as alone as we were gonna get with dozens of other kids shuffling through the halls. I hesitated a moment, after Laura’s comment yesterday I had to say it. “You know I’m not gay, right?”
Cassie hummed a bit as she walked beside me. “Well, there is one easy way to find out.” She stopped, and turned me toward her. Then she opened her coat, posing to show off her figure and the outfit she was wearing.
Her belly button was clearly visible, along with a bit of the ‘v’ of her hips, where her pants dipped low. She slowly ran her finger along the hem of her jeans. “Now, what’s the first thing that went through your mind? Was it ‘A, damn that girl looks hot’ or ‘B, damn that girl looks cold’?”
I was dumbstruck for a second, and I wasn’t the only one. From the sound behind me, a couple people crashed into each other. I broke out laughing while Cassie folded her coat back over. “Okay, so I’m full of dumb questions today. May as well add a third to the list; how are you not a block of ice right now?”
We started walking for the exit again while she talked. “I’m just warm blooded like that,” she suggested in a flirty tone. Then she shivered and rubbed her arms with her hands. “Or I’m so cold that my nipples could be used to cut glass.”
Now there is a mental image I will cherish for life. “Yeah, seriously. I get that there’s a budget crisis or whatever, but you’d think they’d spend a few bucks on heating in this pit.” I opened my coat used it to cover both of us as much as possible. “Here, I’ll let you borrow some of my heat.”
I may have been exaggerating a bit, but it was still cold enough that my power kicked in a couple times. Not counting all the times I dropped the pushup bar on myself.
She cuddled up against me. “I suppose you’re doing this entirely for my benefit. Nothing in it for you at all?”
I ran my hand along the curve of her hip. “Like I told Alex, being a hero is its own reward.”
“Right.” She didn’t seem to mind too much, and in fact just squeezed that much closer against me. Made it pretty tricky to walk like that, but we puzzled through it somehow.
“Oh, and before I forget.” I glanced around to make sure no one was watching before using my power to pull a ten out of my pocket. “Gas money. And yes, you have to take it, otherwise I’ll feel like I’m freeloading.”
“Well, in that case, I guess I gotta.” She took the bill from my hand and dipped it into her coat. I knew because I could sense the various movements of her body through my power.
I looked it up online, and that ability was called ‘heteroception’, and apparently it was a high demand power, depending how good it was. Mine was b-tier at best, and still good enough that making a mil a year was pretty much automatic.
“Don’t tell anyone I can do that.” I told Cassie as a bit of idle conversation right before we split apart to get in her car. “I’m pretty sure I just committed two crimes at once.”
“Well, it’s illegal to destroy money. And illegal to copy it. I just did both.”
She looked up and smiled at me. “So I’ll be spending counterfeit money? Does that mean you have to arrest me?” It would be so much easier to obey the ‘touching is off limits’ rule if she’d stop giving me looks like that one.
“Can’t. I left the handcuffs with my costume.”
Her smile wavered a bit. “I guess it would be kinda weird to take them to school.”
What did I do wrong? “Yeah, probably.” I kissed her forehead, then parted so we could both get in her car.