It was past midnight when I finally pulled into my driveway. Chloe insisted it wasn’t necessary; they didn’t track down hero identities, and even Starfall couldn’t push the issue without risk to herself. Or, if they did go after me, driving an extra thirty miles wasn’t going to fool an Esper.
As true as that may have been, the ritual was comforting. As was Chloe’s promise that she’d go public before she allowed them to hurt me for helping her. Chloe was obstinate enough that I believed she’d do it out of spite if she had to.
I glanced over at Chloe. “Well, this is my home.” I watched her face, expecting her to judge Nanna’s humble three bedroom abode against the luxurious mansions she was accustomed to.
Instead of contempt, her face carried a look of relief. “It’s… nice.”
I tried not to be offended at how surprised she sounded. Maybe I was projecting my insecurities onto her; she could make assumptions about us being poor without it being a matter of race. After all, I did tell her that my family was dealing with financial problems.
I pushed that thought to the back of my head in favor of more significant problems. “Okay, Nanna has some… old fashioned ideas of what is and is not appropriate.”
Chloe just kept looking forward. “So does my family.” Her voice hit ice cold just like that. Man, this foot sandwich could use some bread. “Don’t worry, I’ll be the absolute model of a southern belle. We should just get it over with, or do you think it’ll get better if we wait?”
I didn’t take the bait; years of experience with my sister taught me all about dealing with moody teenage girls. Granted, this was the first one who could demolish concrete with her bare hands. Of all the firsts this night brought for me, gratitude for my sister being nuts was the least expected.
Then again, if Bea had any sort of impulse control I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. “You’re right, I’m just delaying the inevitable.” I made sure to grab my sunglasses before I got out of the truck. One day, I’d need find a better solution, but for now I didn’t have many options.
Chloe caught up to me on the sidewalk. Her hand felt nice on my shoulder. “Umm, listen, sorry I’m being such a bitch.”
“You’ve had a rough night.” Dealing with apologies is one thing you don’t learn when living with my family. “I’m sure things will look better in the morning.”
She forced a smile that came out more like a smirk. “You think?”
“Nowhere to go but up at this point. We’ll just go in, you’ll stay in my room and I’ll sleep on the couch in the living room.” Which will do absolute wonders for my ribs, I’m sure. “In the morning, I’ll talk to my grandma.”
“If you think that’ll work.”
“My sister does worse on a weekly basis, and she hasn’t been disowned yet.” I unlocked the door to the house. “You’ll see, she’s the sweetest, most understanding wo-”
The door yanked open, to reveal Nanna in the doorway. “Whar the hell have you been?! I know I raised you better than this!” She looked past me at Chloe. “And you brought your hussy home with you?!”
“Excuse me!” Chloe shouted. I couldn’t blame her, I just hoped she didn’t light up the neighborhood this time.
A voice laced with laughter came from somewhere inside. “Oh my god! There’s no way!” Well, at least Beatrice is having fun. “I thought he was saving it for a cute throw pillow!”
I did my best to will myself out of existence, but it turns out my stupid power didn’t come with that luxury.
Nanna looked back in the house. “You git back in bed!” Her head snapped back toward me. “You git in the house.” She turned toward Chloe. “And you go back to your pimp, you won’t be corrupting my grandson any further!”
This can’t be happening. This is a delusional coma brought on by a concussion after Chloe hit me too hard, that’s the only rational explanation. “Please, just let me explain.”
“Yes, please explain how you’re sneaking into the house at this ungodly hour with that tramp?” Nanna’s glare made me feel like a six year old caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“I…” I trailed off, trying to find some excuse. I didn’t have an answer to half her accusations; I had no excuse for being out this late, nor any reason to bring Chloe back here. My original plan relied upon the old adage of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Getting caught wasn’t part of the plan.
In this position, I didn’t have a foot to stand on without telling Nanna I had powers, which was the last resort of last resorts. Still, I owed Chloe enough just for not taking credit for the guns that I had to try. “Well, I had to get some stuff for a school project-”
I saw the slap coming, and took it like a man. I only tilted my head in such a way to prevent the glasses from being knocked off. “How dare you lie to me!”
Should have known that wouldn’t work. I resigned myself to just admitting the truth about my powers; the hope was I might disorient her enough that we could get away without revealing Chloe’s powers as well. Part of me grumbled that I had to deal with the consequences, without benefits of doing the crime.
“Chloe Harrison?!” Beatrice had snuck into a position to see out us. “Holy crap, Dom! How did you manage to pick up a babe like her?”
Nanna turned back toward Bea. “You know this girl?” The most recent contribution to the growing list of firsts; I now knew it was possible for my grandmother to get so angry she growled.
“Yeah, she’s like the richest kid in our school.” Beatrice either didn’t notice or care that Nanna looked about ready to kill us.
“Is that true?” Nanna’s question, along with her accusing stare, was now directed at Chloe.
“Not really,” Chloe was every bit as off kilter as I was. “I mean, there’s Eric and Allison, and probably Becky. So I’m only third or fourth place.”
Third or fourth place in a school where half the cars in the parking lot cost six digits. “Look, can we go inside and talk about this?” I looked around. “I think the neighbors might like to go back to sleep.”
Nanna reflexively looked around as well; many of these neighbors had been her friends since before Mom was born. I wasn’t sure how awkward those conversations were going to be, but my guess was ‘extremely’. “Fine, we’ll talk inside. Don’t walk on the carpet in your shoes.”
Nanna had been giving that order to all our guests for as long as I could remember. I slid my shoes into the corner and waited for Chloe to do the same.
She looked like she was thinking about running off and finding somewhere else to stay. I didn’t reach out, it might have annoyed Nanna further, but I offered my support with a smile. “Hey, it’ll be alright.”
Chloe looked at me. “If you say so.” This was the first time I’d ever had a close look at her under decent lighting conditions. That look of hard determination on her doll-like face made for a beautiful and compelling combination. Not for the first time, I found myself wishing she was less attractive.
Bea pressed up against my arm, peaking around to look at Chloe. “So, what are you doing with this dork?” Speaking of girls who are too attractive for my own good. “You know, big brother, when you said you were going to get a summer job, I didn’t know you meant gigolo. But you need to ditch the glasses; that look only works if you’re Will Smith.”
“Beatrice, take your ass upstairs right now!”
“Aww, but Nanna, you can’t let me miss this! I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t know what’s going on.” At least Bea retreated back to the stairwell, leaving me with Chloe.
Chloe’s face was doing a good job of proving she could turn red as well as yellow and blue. “Is… is she always, umm, like that?”
I glanced back at Bea. She was smiling like the cat who just got the keys to the canary factory. “She’s got a chance to rub it in my face that I’m the one in trouble, so she’s milking it for everything she can.”
“Long story short, I’ve always been the responsible one.” I watched Chloe bring her foot up to untie her shoe, and did my best not to think about how flexible she was. I needed to stop thinking about this girl that way. “I guess, with our parents gone, I felt like I needed to be the man of the house. So I never got in trouble or did anything bad. It’s a family thing, I guess.”
“Oh.” Chloe stepped out of her shoes. “I’m sorry for putting you in this situation. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you.”
She is not flirting with you and you know it. “We’ll see if you still feel that way tomorrow. I don’t have time to explain the plan, but things might get awkward real fast.”
“Very well,” she smiled. “I trust you.”
“Thanks.” I turned away from her. “Nanna, Bea, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?” I didn’t wait for an answer, but they did follow me. I made a point to look at where Chloe was waiting in the living room.
“Okay, Domenic, this is your last chance. Now explain what this is about.” Nanna’s voice was hushed, she picked up on my subliminal cues. Even Bea managed to drop her grin in response to the intensity of the situation.
“Promise not to react until I explain everything?” I’d learned long ago to do the ‘man of the house’ voice, and I used it for everything it was worth.
Slower than I needed, I slid my jacket sleeve up my left arm. The bruising caused by Chloe was already showing mottled purple, even against my dark skin.
Nanna’s eyes widened, and she looked about ready to cry. She was so upset that she didn’t notice Bea’s profanity. “Domenic, what did you get yourself into?”
I never could figure out why Nanna’s southern accent seemed to fade when she was upset. Sorry, I hope you’ll forgive me for the deception some day. “It’s a complicated story, and a lot of it I can’t tell you. I promised Chloe I wouldn’t.”
“If you were hurt because of that girl-”
“It wasn’t her fault.” The only lie I’d tell tonight, I hoped. “I won’t tell you the details, don’t try to make me. Just understand that she can’t go home; not now, not ever.” Those words were ones Chloe herself said. “While we’re on the subject; Bea, could you please stop with the dirty comments? It’s making an already uncomfortable situation even worse.”
“So you brought her here?” Nanna’s eyes were a mix of emotions I couldn’t quite read. “Do you know how much trouble we’ll be in if her parents cause trouble for us? It’s a crime to hide runaways, Domenic.”
“They can’t afford to; if this goes public, it will ruin their entire family.” I took a chance to look at Chloe again. It wasn’t the prettiest position I was putting us in, but it was the only way I could think up that would work. “She just needs a place to stay for the night. She can stay in my room, and I’ll sleep on the couch, okay?”
Bea glanced between me and Chloe, while Nanna just stood there in silence. For a painful minute, none of us said a thing.
I was starting to yearn for one of Bea’s comments when Nanna finally spoke. “Fine, just for tonight.” Thank you, God. “But we’re setting some ground rules.”
Nanna’s face returned to its usual stern self, then she turned and walked into the living room. Bea and I followed like good children; or at least ones who didn’t want a whipping. “I’ve talked it over with my grandson, and you can stay the night.”
Chloe’s face lit up. “Thank you, I know it’s-”
“However,” Nanna’s voice brooked no challenge. “You are not staying in Domenic’s room. I’m still not convinced the two of you won’t get up to some hanky-panky. You will stay with Beatrice, in her room.”
Chloe’s skin started turning an adorable shade of pink. “Umm… but… I…”
“Is there a reason you don’t want a chaperon, young lady?”
“No, ma’am.” Chloe opted to study the floor instead of argue. The unspoken but unanimous agreement was that it was a better use of her time.
“Well, at least you’re polite.” Nanna relaxed a little. “Now git warshed up an’ go to sleep. If the police come knocking, we had no idea this was anything other than girls having a sleepover. Do you understand me?”
“I understand fully.” Chloe still didn’t bring her head up. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Bea moved past us. “Well, you heard the lady, it’s time to have us a sleepover!” She wrapped her arm around the still blushing Chloe. “We can talk about school and music and you can spend the rest of the night explaining why anyone would ever hook up with my brother.”
The two girls couldn’t have been more different looking; Bea was taller than most adult women, let alone a sixteen year old. Chloe was a little shorter than average, though she still had a great figure. It looked entirely like Bea was dragging Chloe off against her will, if you didn’t know the story.
I wasn’t worried; no one could make Chloe do anything she didn’t want to do. Then, the same could be said for my sister.
“I’m not sure if I should be proud or disappointed.” Nanna’s voice snapped me out of admiration of Chloe’s backside.
I turned to look toward Nanna. “Uh, what do you mean?”
“You lied to me to my face.” I could not figure out Nanna’s expression to save my life, and I suspected that might be what was on the line.
“Sorry, but I didn’t want-”
“And yer still lyin’.”
Oh fuck. “But I-”
“Ah’ve dealt with better liars than you all my life.” This time, I kept my mouth shut after Nanna interrupted me. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on with you’n that girl, but it’s so important that yer willin’ to lie to me to my face.”
I bowed my head. There was nothing I could say.
“You’re a good boy, Domenic. Smart, responsible, and becoming more like your grandfather every day. When he found a cause, not hell or high water could stop him. I saw that same look in your eyes tonight, I know better than to fight it. Just promise me one thing.”
“Whatever happens, you don’t let it hurt you or this family.”
I thought about Chloe’s family. Nanna was right to be concerned; this was a bomb ticking its way to doomsday. “I promise I won’t allow it to hurt my family.” I turned and walked toward the stairs.
It was the only promise I could make.