The job of a superhero is more than just flying around looking gorgeous and rescuing the occasional old lady — you have to make a stand against injustice too. Graham learns that lesson.
The Green Guardian rounded the corner at a run and kicked off with a spring from his improbably muscled thighs, head tilted upwards, one fist punching ahead of him and his long cape fluttering over his dimpled buttocks as he cannoned skywards. His purple and green figure-hugging onesie with the silver belt and mandarin collar looked, as ever, fabulous, but the hood had shifted and got in the way of his eyes. He slowed to a stop, hovering a hundred metres above the rooftops of Metrocity, and pulled it back into shape, and then took a moment to admire the view before once more raising one knee and punching the air above him to continue his upward flight. Nothing much happened, his hover bounced a little and settled back to stasis. He tried again. Still nothing. He positioned himself in his most dynamic pose, toes pointed, forward fist clenched tightly, his other arm across his chest with his fist clenched over his heart, and thought himself into flight. Finally there was a little movement. He held on, concentrating with all his might, and he began to rise. Sweat broke out on his forehead with the effort but he was moving, slowly but surely he was gaining height.
A sound broke into his thoughts, distracting him. A voice, distant and yet somehow nearby. He listened, trying to catch the words. No longer concentrating on his flight, he began to tumble out of the sky. He flailed wildly, got his arms tangled in his cape. A sudden cold draught made him shiver. What was that voice saying?
“Uh?” He pulled himself to consciousness and peered through bleary eyes up at his father, standing by his bed holding his duvet.
“I couldn’t wake you. Come on, get yourself up, or you’ll be late for school — again.”
“Oh, Dad! Gimme my duvet back — I’m cold!”
“Put some clothes on, you’ll soon warm up.”
Graham glanced down at his naked body and remembered he hadn’t bothered with his pyjamas. He felt the hot flush of embarrassment burning in his cheeks.
“Come on, son, you’re nearly fifteen, you shouldn’t need me to get you up.” His father chuckled and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Ten minutes later Graham appeared in the kitchen at a run, grabbed the paper bag with his lunch sandwich out of his father’s hand and kept going, out of the back door and off down the road to the bus stop, just in time to jump on the school bus before it pulled away without him.
The bus, as usual, was almost full, and he headed to the first empty seat, only to move on when Josh Higgins, school rugby captain and giant, in the seat beside it, raised two fingers and snarled “Fuck off, Gertie.”
Further down the bus he found a seat next to Neil Taylor, who had earbuds in his ears and probably didn’t even notice him. He settled into the seat, put his backpack between his legs and focussed laser beams from his eyes on the back of Josh’s head four rows in front of him. Disappointingly, it didn’t explode. He sat through the journey hating Josh for calling him Gertie.
At school he made his way through the noisy crowds to the rack of lockers. Some kids ignored him and some gave themselves a small thrill by shouldering him out of their way or sticking a foot out for him to trip over. He heard “Gertie” more than once before he got to his locker.
Graham knew it wasn’t as bad for him as it was for some. He was a target because he wore glasses, because he was skinny and uncoordinated, no good at sports, and worse still he was bright. There were others, like poor Nelly Dean, who stood out much more than he did, and suffered the consequences. He looked around the room, and located Nelly — even Graham thought of him as Nelly, although his name was James — against his locker on the other side of the room, right next to Josh Higgins’, and Graham wondered at the stupidity of assigning the bullies and their victims neighbouring lockers. Nelly — small, delicate, his hair dyed white, long eyelashes, graceful feminine movements. He was trying to fill a rucksack with books and the rugby team were enjoying themselves at his expense, knocking the bag out of his hands, kicking it around. Poor Nelly, when the Josh Higgins crowd sneered at him he flinched and cowered and they took that as their cue to ramp up the persecution. The bell went for class and Graham breathed a sigh of relief as the crowds dispersed.
The day passed much like all the other school days. It was on the way home that it took a turn away from the ordinary. As Graham stepped off the bus at the end of his road, the bridge of his nose prickled and he was instantly alert. He scanned the scene, his senses tuned to their most acute. He saw a frail-looking old lady at the other side of the road, waving and calling out, apparently to someone still on the school bus, and then, oblivious to the approach of an oncoming car, she stepped into the road, still trying to catch the attention of whoever it was.
In far less time than it takes to tell it, the Green Guardian went into action. He didn’t try flight, in case his power conked out on him again. Instead he sprang forward using the turbo power of his improbably muscled thighs, running to intercept the elderly woman and sweep her to safety before the car impacted. He hit her amidships in a rugby tackle, powering her back to the pavement where she sat down heavily on a well-padded backside, but just too late to avoid the impact altogether. The car caught him on the flank and spun him around and along the gutter, brought to a halt when his head hit a lamp-post and everything went dark.
It seemed to be taking longer than usual to wake up. His super-senses told him there were people around him although his eyes were closed. He tried opening them but somehow they wouldn’t open. He raised a hand and found he had a bulky bandage around his head but his nose and mouth were free. He tried speaking.
The reply came from close by, a woman’s voice he didn’t recognise, but reassuring, calm. “You were hit by a car. You’ve banged your head and we had to put your skull back together like a jigsaw. The surgeon thinks you’re going to be okay, but for now I want you to lie still and try not to disturb the dressings.”
“Where am I?”
“Midtown General Hospital. Your friend’s here, and his Grandma was here earlier, and she left a message for you, that she wants to thank you for saving her life. You’re quite a hero, young man.”
Graham took a moment to take that in, decided to let the hero bit pass for now.
“I’ll leave you with him for a while, but I don’t want you to get over-excited, so no larking around, okay? You’ve got ten minutes, and then I want you to rest.”
Graham heard a door open and then close again.
Whoever was left in the room with him moved closer, sat in a chair beside his bed, but didn’t speak.
“Who is it? Who’s there?”
“It’s me, James — James Dean.”
He recognised the voice immediately. “Nelly? Why... I mean, thanks for coming, but...”
There was a moment’s pause and Graham regretted using the school nickname.
“Mrs Gibbons — she’s the one you tackled — she’s my Grandma.”
“James, I’m sorry. How is she?”
“She’s fine. No bones broken. They checked her over and all she’s got is bruises. She was here until an hour ago, wanted to thank you. She says you saved her life. Your Dad’s been here too, he’s only just left to go to work.”
“Oh. I’m glad your Gran’s okay, though. Why did she walk in front of the traffic like that?”
“She saw me and wanted me to get off the bus, and didn’t think to look both ways. She says her brain doesn’t go as fast as it did.”
There didn’t seem to be anything else to say, so, being boys, they didn’t say anything. After a bit, James piped up again.
“They say they’re going to take your bandage off tomorrow, and if you’re healing okay, they’re going to give you a different kind, so your eyes won’t be covered and you’ll be able to see yourself in a mirror. It’s a pity you can’t see yourself now, you look like a turnip. I’ve taken a photo on my phone.”
“You’re not planning to put it on Facebook are you?”
“Nah. I’m not on Facebook, don’t want it rubbed in that I’ve got no friends.”
“James, about that. I’m... sorry I haven’t stood up for you at school. I’ve been thinking for ages I should have. I’d... I’d like to be your friend.”
“You would? Why?”
“Well, I need friends too. And, anyway, you’re cute.”
And they both collapsed in raucous laughter which brought the nurse back in to scold them.
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