This is Book 2 of the story Exceptional. Please see the post immediately preceding this post in order to catch up on Book One.
When James was barely thirteen years old, he saved a young girl he had never met before from a gang of kidnappers who planned to rape and murder her. As James was just beginning to understand his special abilities at the time, his father had to save him from the very same men.
Three years later, that confused, stringy thirteen-year-old became a tall, muscular high school sophomore. During those three years he had been living with the knowledge that he, like his father, grandfather and God knows how many generations before them, possessed exceptional abilities.
James longed to learn more about himself and his family. He wanted to keep himself from ever needing to be saved again.
Yet James longed to do more heroic things just like he’d done that night in the dark garage that smelled of sweat, fear and mildew. Each day spent learning geometry, writing book reports and getting to bed early so he could be well rested for tomorrow’s history test seemed like time he could be spending helping someone in need.
He often talked with his father about such things. The father James had once seen as judgmental and belittling had proven to be a willing mentor and someone who wanted to help James understand what he was becoming. Morning runs before school were a frequent forum for conversations regarding super-human abilities.
“Did grandpa teach you like this?” he asked his father, neither of them breathing very hard with two miles already behind them.
“He started to,” James’ father answered, “but then he sort of left me to figure the rest out on my own.”
“Is it because that’s what you wanted?”
“There’s more to it than that, which I’ll explain to you another day, but to make a long story short, your granddad didn’t want to push this life or his feelings about it onto me. He explained the basics and stepped back.” James’ father stared straight ahead while he spoke. “I suppose it worked out for the best.”
For as much as James spoke with his father about all of this, it seemed there was always more to learn. Questions burned in his mind. It created an endless list of material to be covered, some of which James knew his father wouldn’t even want to discuss with him.
Sometimes James just wanted to talk shop. What was the best way to kick multiple bad guy ass if they had you surrounded? Where should criminals be left in order that they be found easily by the police afterwards? Was a costume or at least a mask necessary? His father was always so serious about it that James was too embarrassed to ask such things.
He didn’t even allow James to use the word “super.” Superheroes, superpowers and super-strength were all terms that resulted in a frowning, fatherly stare and immediate correction. James wondered at times if his father had ever been impressed and excited by his own abilities or had always seen it as business.
Still, he was the only person James had to talk to that truly understood what it was like to have such powers.
But that didn’t mean he was the only one James talked to about it.
James revealed his powers to a friend on day completely by accident. A car accident to be precise.
Two years back, while walking home from the school bus stop together, James and his friend, Dave, witnessed a woman with a small child in the back seat swerve to avoid a dog that had run out into the middle of the street. Her car ended up hitting the curb and then a light pole before flipping onto its roof.
“Holy crap!” Dave exclaimed and looked around. “Somebody call 911!” he shouted to the empty, late afternoon, residential street.
When he looked back to the car, James was already underneath, dragging out the child, still secure in its car seat and wailing at the top of its lungs.
“James, be careful,” Dave warned as he watched multiple fluids leak in every direction from the overturned vehicle. But James was already back under the car, in the front seat this time.
“Take this,” James called from below. Dave saw his arm emerge holding a cell phone. “Call an ambulance and move the baby away from here.”
As Dave dragged the car seat complete with screaming child onto someone’s front lawn, he placed the 911 call. Immediately upon hanging up the phone, Dave heard the whining sound of bending metal. Afraid the car was preparing to collapse on its occupants, which now included his good friend James, Dave got down on all fours and crawled up to the side window to warn them to get out now.
Dave even opened his mouth and took a deep breath with every intention of shouting that very warning.
Instead, he said nothing and remained on all fours, mouth and eyes wide open.
The woman in the driver’s seat was belted in, unconscious. A gash on her head bled steadily and dripped down to the pavement. She was pinned between her seat and the steering wheel and dashboard.
The thing that astonished Dave was not the blood. It was the fact that the creeking metal sound was being produced by James. He lay with his back against the interior ceiling of the car, and pushed up with his legs against the floor. Dave watched as the entire mass of metal shifted upward, the car seeming to swell as if it were about to burst.
Sweat poured from James’ forehead. Eventually, the steering wheel had been moved far enough away from her that the woman shifted slightly, the seat belt alone holding her from falling upward to the ground.
James scrambled out from under the car and ran around to the driver’s door. On his second attempt, James pulled the door clean off its hinges. Then he stopped.
Just suddenly remembering Dave was there, James looked over at him. His eyes were nearly as wide as Dave’s as he stared at him, still on all fours on the pavement. Dave’s mouth was still wide open.
While, eventually, Dave managed to close his mouth, his eyes remained like saucers until after the ambulance had arrived. Even then, it wasn’t until after the police and fire department had cleared the scene that Dave spoke a word.
“How did you…” was all that came out.
It was then that James decided he would confide in Dave. They had been together since Kindergarten. Dave always saved the orange Hungry Hungry Hippo for him. He always offered James something from his lunch. He always picked James first when he was a team captain in Gym. He never asked for anything. James felt Dave had earned his trust.
Besides, while the talks with his father were informative, James needed somebody his own age to share his secrets with. And Dave loved hearing about it.
James explained how the dent in his junior high locker had been from his head. He reminded Dave of his sudden dodge ball dominance in seventh grade and assured him it was no accident.
“Have you been, like, fighting crime every night and stuff? Do you wear a mask?”
“No,” James shook his head and watched as Dave’s shoulder dropped in disappointment. “Well, I guess I’ve fought some crime,” he added.
“Really?! What’d you do?”
“This one time, this guy snatched a lady’s purse and started running off with it. He pushed her to the ground and everything and she just started crying and she looked right at me. I felt kind of bad, you know? So, I chased the guy down…”
“You’re super fast, aren’t you?”
“Um, yeah, I’m pretty fast. So anyway, I caught up to him and told him to drop the purse, but since I’m like just a kid, he said to get lost and…”
“Did you zap him?!”
“You know, like, BA-ZAP! with your eyes or something?” Dave used his hands to animate lasers coming from his eyes, apparently so that James wasn’t confused about what he was asking.
“No,” James said. “I can’t do that.”
“Okay, okay, so what did you do?”
“I grabbed the purse from him and he pulled a knife and so I…”
“Did you melt it with heat vision?!” Again, Dave used his hands by his eyes.
“Dave, I just told you, I can’t shoot shit out of my eyes. C’mon!”
“I’m sorry, man, this is just so cool! I mean, I can’t believe I’m best friends with a real life super hero. The way you lifted that car off that lady it was like…like…oh, man, you don’t even know how psyched I am about this.”
James smiled at being called a super hero despite what his father would think and resisted the urge to correct him.
“So finish your story. I won’t interrupt any more. What did you do when the guy pulled the knife?”
“I knocked it out of his hand with my fist. I’m pretty sure I broke his arm.”
“Awesome,” Dave whispered more to himself than James, then spoke up to say, “You are such a bad ass. Have you done anything else?”
James hesitated at first. The purse snatching story and the car accident were relatively tame. He wasn’t sure if he should talk about the girl in the trunk. But the feeling of letting all this out to a peer was overwhelming.
“There was this one time…it was kind of messed up,” James began. He then told the story of how he had smelled the fear and followed it. He shared with Dave how ashamed he was that he let the men leave with that girl in the trunk the first time he’d seen them. He confided in Dave that he still wonders what happened to the girl during those few hours before he mustered the courage to save her and wonders if she’s alright now. He told Dave he still remembered the license plate: JDO 826.
And before James knew what he was saying, he told Dave about how his father had crashed through the roof and saved him.
“Wait! Your dad is a super hero too?!”
“Crap,” James muttered. “Look, you can’t ever act like you know. He would kill me if he knew I was telling you any f this, especially that he has powers.”
“Oh no. Hell no, I’m not telling anybody,” Dave nearly shouted. “Your secret is safe with me, dude. We are all good.”
“Yeah, it’s just…” James looked down. “I just haven’t been able to talk to anybody about this and…you’re my best friend and I’ve always felt like I was hiding this huge thing from you and it feels good to tell you now.”
Dave nodded and stared at James. And just as James began to feel a lump in his throat, Dave asked, “So your dad can fly? Is that how he crashed through the roof?”
In the coming months, Dave spent a great deal of time reading comic books. He would even get caught from time to time during class with an issue between the pages of a textbook they were supposed to be studying. Dave was convinced that what he was doing was more research than entertainment. Dave would insist that James be aware of how the superheroes in his comic books handled themselves. Each challenge faced by Spider-Man held a potential lesson for James.
And James let him offer his advice. It was fun to have a friend interested in his life, whether he saw it as a cartoon or not. He knew his father would be upset if he ever knew he told Dave his secrets, but it was a guilty pleasure he felt he needed. Otherwise the weight of this life might get the best of him.
What James didn’t know was that, up to this point, his father had been keeping a similar secret from him.
His father had preached to him over the past three years to keep this part of his life hidden. He was told by his father to wear loose fitting clothing as often as possible to make his physique less noticeable. He had encouraged James to play football as a way to let off steam, but told him not to hit too hard. His father expressed the importance of protecting the entire family by not allowing his abilities to be exposed to any outsiders.
Yet, as James sat cross-legged on the floor of his bedroom, looking over comic books with Dave one evening, his father met with an old confidant of his own in a darkened warehouse.
“It’s been so many years,” a man in a long, white lab coat said to James’ father as he drew blood from his arm. “I was afraid your father had finally convinced you to cut off all contact with the outside world. I’m glad you finally decided to get back in touch with me.”
The man was bent over at the shoulders, hardly a wisp of shocking white hair across the top of his head and with glasses as thick as one could possibly imagine glasses could be fashioned.
“I figured it might be time to reconnect, doctor,” James’ father said as he buttoned his shirt. “There have been some new developments.”
“Developments. What sort of developments?” The man turned and placed the vial of blood in a centrifuge.
“My son,” James’ father said, causing the doctor to stop. “He’s like me. In fact, I think he can really be something special. Better than me. I was hoping to bring him here to meet you next week.”
The doctor turned back to look at James’ father. “Better than you?” he smiled. “Well then, Samuel, I should say I would very much like to met your son.”