One last glance in the mirror to make sure everything was right. My dark blue dress made what passed for my ‘assets’ stand out as much as possible. My blonde hair done up in matching blue ribbons that emphasized my equally blue eyes. All framed with just a smattering of freckles on my cheeks. I was the very picture of adorable; a fact which I hated with the passion of a thousand burning suns.
I glared at my own reflection; no one would think twice if I claimed I was in middle school. I pushed on the padded bra, trying to force just a bit more cleavage into my figure. I’d long ago given up hope of having Mom’s figure, but I wanted something to show for having a menstrual cycle.
“Hey, shrimp, Mom says hurry up!” That was Jay, my younger brother, who was taller than me.
“Ugh! I’m done, okay!?” I opened the door.
“Good.” Jay pushed past me. “We were about to send the National Guard in after you, but they said something about hazard pay. Oh, Mom’s in her study, have fun with that.”
I rolled my eyes and left the brat. It was effort enough to to breathe in this dress, let alone get into a yelling match. I made the long walk to the study; why my parents felt like they needed thirty rooms for a family of five, I would never know.
Mom was typing something out on her computer while the television ran in the background. I recognized Senator Adam Reynolds on the news; we’d had him over for dinner like a month ago. He was jockying for position as the GOP candidate and was hoping my parents would donate to the cause. I stood there listening for a while; he was a charismatic speaker. He even treated me with respect when I was visiting; then again, he was trying to impress my parents.
More importantly, Mom was working, and she hated it when we interrupted her.
“-waste of resources. Now, I know my detractors will try to appeal to a misguided sense of fairness. They would argue weather manipulation is a limited resource that should be used for equal benefit of every state. We know that’s hogwash.”
“We’ve been facing nationwide droughts for three years, and all evidence suggests it will get worse before it gets better. We can not afford to hem and haw over this any longer. The Democrats claim they’re on the side of the working poor, but turn around and direct the same amount of rain at California as North Carolina.”
Ah, yes, this old argument. “Doesn’t Senator Reynolds have a vacation home in Malibu?”
Mom didn’t look up. “Yeah, it’s actually quite nice, why?”
“Oh, no reason.” I went back to watching.
“-Rather than giving the water to the people who need it: our nation’s farmers!” There was a brief applause by the audience.
“The definition of the working class, the backbone of this great nation! We can spend our efforts protecting the livelihoods of the people who make America what it is, or we can dump it in some celebrity’s swimming pools. California is a desert, it’s always been a desert, and as far as I’m concerned it can stay a desert. The decision is clear.”
Mom got up from her chair. “Alright, now let’s take a look at you.”
I stood like I was facing some military inspection; this part always sucked. She grabbed the makeup kit off her desk and immediately started brushing some makeup off my cheeks before really going to town on my eyes.
“Honestly, Chloe, I don’t know why you use so much eyeshadow,” she said. I stood there letting her poke and prod my face. “It makes you look like a streetwalker.”
“It makes me look adult,” I mumbled through closed lips. On the off chance anyone doesn’t already know this already, makeup tastes disgusting. I suspect my mother waited until redoing my makeup to have this conversation just so I couldn’t talk back without getting a mouthful of powder.
“You don’t need to look adult,” she said. I felt her kneel down in front of me. “Chloe, look at me. You are a lovely girl, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know how to appreciate beauty.”
I cautiously opened my eyes, Mom’s face was level with mine. Unlike me, Mom actually was beautiful, and she looked like a professional movie crew was hired to do her hair and makeup every day. On top of all that, she was successful, happily married, and well liked by those who knew her. She was the kind of woman by which all other women compared themselves and came up wanting.
“Well, I don’t think so.” I can’t even complain without sounding like a child.
“Don’t tell anyone, but I felt the same way when I was your age.” She laughed a bit. “If I wanted to be a typical adult, I’d tell you that you’ll grow out of it, but I think we’re both better than that. Honestly, I still felt unattractive in college. I felt like that until I met your father. He’s the one who made me believe I was beautiful.” A dreamy little smile formed on her face.
“Eww. Gross, Mom.”
“Heh, so you’re old enough to know what that look means?” Mom’s grin widened, now she was just teasing me.
“I’m also old enough to know what ‘repressed memories’ are, so I’m going to try to do that now.”
Mom pulled me into a hug. “Just try not to grow up too fast, okay? Enjoy your childhood while you still have a chance. One day, you’ll look back on days like this and realize you’ll never have another chance to experience them.”
I rested my head on her shoulder. “And on that day, I’ll still look like I’m twelve.”
She pulled back, still smiling. “Well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.” I tried to object, but she spoke over me. “Trust me, as a woman in this world it pays to be underestimated. Let others see your face and think they’ve got nothing to worry about, while you know you’re the most dangerous person in the room. That’s how I made my first million.”
“Well, it was actually two-point-four mil, and my boss’s job.” She got back to her feet. “Oof, I’m getting old. Anyway, remind me to tell you that story later. For now, you get your butt downstairs and greet guests and mingle. You won’t be the most dangerous woman in the room, yet, but that’s no excuse not to practice.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”
“And that suspicious attitude is exactly the right one to have in the business world.” I couldn’t help but notice she didn’t say ‘no’. “Just, remember to hide it inside. It doesn’t matter how innocent you look when people can see your thoughts written all over your face.”
I couldn’t help myself, I smiled. “Great, I just realized my mother gets her parenting advice from Nietzsche.”
“Would you prefer I do what everyone else does and let the TV raise you for me?” Mom raised one eyebrow. I envied her ability to do that; I’ve spent hours practicing that look in the mirror and failing. “Oh, and to make you look forward to this party, Starfall’s going to be here.”
“Ohmygod! Seriously!?” If she was lying about this, I would barricade myself inside my room for a month. Starfall was one of the best superheroes in the state, maybe the country. She created fields around herself that manipulated light, luck, and even time itself. No individual effect all that powerful, but taken together she could stall or defeat almost any opponent.
“She’ll only be staying long enough to be seen. You know how the superhero biz gets,” Mom said. “But I’ll bet you can get an autograph if you try. Maybe even a picture.”
“That would be amazing!” I squealed like the fangirl I was. “Best behavior time!”
“That’s my girl.”
“-pleaded guilty to assault and unlawful restraint, they are expected to serve eight years imprisonment, the minimum sentence in exchange for testifying against the other defendants.”
Mom looked at the television. “Ugh. The sad part is they’d have gotten a lighter sentence if they murdered that girl.” She sighed and looked back at me. “I should just stop watching the news. Now go hold down the fort for me, I’ll just finish up this paperwork.”
“Okay!” I didn’t need to be asked twice; today I was going to meet a real life superhero. I rushed downstairs as fast as my dress would allow; somewhere between ‘walking’ and ‘standing still’ on the speedometer.
I didn’t have long to wait for the first guests to the party. “Chloe! You’re getting so big!” Mrs. Richman exclaimed. She always was good at lying with a smile on her face. “How old are you now?”
“Sixteen, ma’am,” I heeded my mother’s advice and kept my smile sweet and innocent. The Richmans were our neighbors, and owners of something like half the state’s tobacco.
Mrs. Richman hugged her husbands arm. He seemed content to let her do all the talking. “Seems like yesterday you were just a babe, and now you’re all grown up and ready to think about college. I should have my Charles come over and help you with applications.”
“I’d like that, Ma’am.” It seemed like Mrs. Richman just assumed that her son and I would be married some day, and had since we were children. Once upon a time, I thought so, too, until puberty came along and nailed that coffin shut.
“Please, we’re practically family, you can call me Dolly.” She and her husband went in to make themselves at home while I stayed around for more guests. I practiced my ‘innocent’ smile on pharmaceutical giants, real estate developers, and even the governor. This was Mom and Dad’s big showing, one of two they held every year, and it represented a huge amount of power.
Today was the first time I felt like I needed to pay attention. Mom was right, if I wanted to succeed in this world, I needed to be the smartest and best informed woman here.
I was bored out of my mind after the first five minutes; no one was here to talk business. It was all gossip, pretending to care about the wine vintage, or other such posturing. There was more conversation about football than business. I used my position as ‘doorman’ as an excuse to avoid the guests.
About an hour in, Starfall arrived. She was the definition of beauty, with long raven-black hair and the poise of a goddess. Somehow, her hair waved in the wind despite it being a completely calm evening. I just stood there, dumbstruck before her.
My mother came to the rescue, stepping past me. “I’m so glad you could make it.” She gave Starfall a polite hug, and once again I found myself jealous of my mother, if for a rather different reason. “This is my daughter.”
Starfall smiled at me. “Chloe, right? Your mother’s told me so much about you that I feel like I know you already.”
I suspect Mom left out a few critical details. I nodded, glad my mouth was too dry to speak; anything I said would just make me sound like an idiot.
“I think she’s taking her role as doorman just a little too seriously,” Mom laughed off my awkward hesitation. “Let’s head inside, and Chloe will catch up to us when she’s sure everyone’s arrived.”
“That sounds good.” Starfall put a hand on my shoulder. “Keep up the good work, Chloe.”
My shoulder was still tingling long after they went inside. I want to be just like her when I grow up. It was a stupid dream, to hope for something like that. I was some girl that even puberty didn’t notice, and she was a living goddess. A hero, and with one of the coolest powers I’d ever even heard about. We were nothing alike.
I can be.
The thought wasn’t mine, but I felt it inside my mind. I almost dismissed it as a flight of fancy, but then light danced across my fingertips before fading. I can have Power.
I just stared at my once again mundane hand. I couldn’t have it for nothing; the ability to change the world like that was never free. If I wanted to be more, then I would have to sacrifice for it.
Lightning danced through my very bones. That’s what it means to be a hero, right? Personal sacrifice to make the world a better place.
It was the easiest decision I’d ever made in my life.