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Chapter I

 

Excerpt from the Book I’m In the League

Chapter 9

Johnny, I’m Only Dancing

            If growing up is hard for the average teenager, it’s twice as hard for a teenage hero.  Ten times as hard for a sidekick.  There’s so much happening in your life.  You’re struggling to find your place in the world and define who you are.  Who you’re going to be.  I remember The Holy Avenger kept trying to talk to me about my future, but I couldn’t listen to that.  Who can think about their future when they don’t even know where they presently stand. 

            At the time, all that was going through my head was that I was sick of having The Holy Avenger tell me what to do.  The times that really bothered me, was when he told me to stay back. 

            “I can’t have you on this one, Wally.  It’s too dangerous.”  Six years of training and being his partner and he was still holding me back.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  He couldn’t see that I was my own man now.  I didn’t need him to protect me, or so I thought. 

            I had already dropped the “Kid” from my name and was calling myself Paladin.  Even though I had grown up, and was clearly not the little boy from the comics and cartoons, people continued to call me Kid Paladin.  It stung even more when members of the League would do it.  It especially hurt when Sentinel would say it.  There was always an air of disdain and scorn in his voice.  I don’t think he liked sidekicks, or even children for that matter.  He would always question any plan that included myself or any of the Junior Leaguers. 

            It was a few months after my seventeenth birthday that Abysmal attacked.  To this day, I don’t know what it was he was after, or what his plan was.  I don’t think any one knows.  Maybe he was just calling us out. 

            Every once in while one of the big villains would show up and just start destroying stuff.  No true intent or purpose, just destruction.  I guess in some ways they were just like us.  Once you’d been on the scene a couple of times, fought in a few battles, you had a hard time just sitting still. 

            We would go out on patrol, in our diligence to protect the city and its people.  Really what we were doing was looking for an excuse to bust some heads.  I can only assume it was the same way with them.  Every so often, they just need to stir things up. 

            I had tracked Abysmal to his hideout.  He had taken an old airfield and converted into his criminal refuge.  It was weird when you thought about it.  At least when I did.  It all seemed like a game.  Everyone knew where the villains hid out, and where their “lairs”, of sort, were, but we never went there and just arrested them.  We never really tried to track them down, even when they’d get away with some petty crime.  I guess subconsciously we all recognized the symbiotic nature of our relationship.  Yin and yang. 

            That night, though, I wasn’t having any of it.  I had something to prove, and I went after the biggest fish I could find. 

            The Holy Avenger and I were used to being sneaky and using surprise as our biggest tool.  Not having any powers, and only a few hand-to-hand weapons, we had to employ stealth whenever possible.  Not that night. 

            I broke through the airfield gate on my motorcycle and charged straight to the hangar in the back.  I’ll never forget, Hangar 7.   He could have heard me coming from blocks away. 

            I remember as I approached the hangar there was this tremendous pressure in my chest as I was knocked backwards of the bike.  My chest ached and I found myself gasping for breath.  It felt as if my entire chest had been caved in.  I knew that at least three of my ribs were broken.  Abysmal had used his kinetic force power to knock me off the bike. 

            My ego wouldn’t let me accept the pain.  I tried to roll with the attack and come up on my feet.  The move was sloppy and I looked like a floundering fish.  My legs shook uncontrollably.  I didn’t know if it was from fear or adrenaline.  As I look back on it now, I’m sure it was fear.  Before that moment I had no idea what I was getting into.  After that blast to the chest, I knew for damn sure what was coming my way, but teen angst wouldn’t allow me to leave. 

            The Holy Avenger and I had fought Abysmal a few times in the past.  He wasn’t one of our regulars, and tended to fight against Major Tom.  When we did fight, I was primarily on the sidelines.  I served as a distraction to allow The Holy Avenger to move in closer and avoid the kinetic force blasts.  I would attack from behind, or from a blindside.  Never had I gone toe-to-toe with him. 

            That night was a mistake.  I knew it then.  And, sitting in this wheelchair, I know it now.

*****

            “You’re just mad ‘cause your dad is a mangy dog, and not a real hero.  Oh, excuse me,” Francesca pretended to pardon herself.  “…stepfather.  You don’t even know who your real dad is, do you?”    

            Celia rushed Francesca and knocked her to the ground.  She grabbed Francesca’s head and slammed it against the concrete.  Francesca’s eyes crossed for a few seconds as she was temporarily disoriented.  She didn’t have much time to gather herself before Celia proceeded to pound her face with her fists. 

            “Aah!  Get off me, skank!”  Francesca screamed.  She attempted to push the girl off of her, but wasn’t strong enough.  Celia outweighed the pretentious waif by a rough twenty pounds.  Celia wasn’t fat or even classified as over-weight.  She merely had a few extra pounds that she was actively aware of.  In her weaker moments she wished she looked more like Francesca and her fashion magazine addicted friends; trying desperately to find an identity in those glosses ad filled pages.  But she carried her rounded hips and slightly rounded belly with pride.  Celia chose to stay the way she was and not try to be like them.  It was what gave her a personality that couldn’t be pinned on a bedroom wall or taped inside a locker.  Too much make-up, too much, hair spray, too much tv. 

            Celia grabbed the girl with the overly painted face by her new shirt and twisted it into a knot.  She pulled at it, trying to rip it from her body.  When she couldn’t, she slapped Francesca in the face and let go of her. 

            “Just shut your mouth and leave me the hell alone!” Celia yelled in Francesca’s face.  She raised up and stepped over the small girl. 

            “You fat, stupid, bitch!” Francesca cried.  Celia hadn’t done any serious damage to her; a bruise here and there.  Her nose would be sore, but wasn’t broken, and her lip would swell, but wasn’t split. 

            Francesca got to her knees and slowly stood up.  She rubbed the back of her head and could feel a lump forming already.  She tried to smooth down her hair, which was scattered all over her head and stuck out from everywhere.  She dusted herself off and tried to smooth out her new shirt. 

            Francesca had gotten the shirt over the weekend at a benefit performance she attended with her parents.  The world’s greatest and best known superhero, Colonel Courageous, was the star of the show.  He dazzled the crowd with feats of strength, and speed, and by showcasing his invulnerability. 

            Francesca’s shirt was a powder blue babydoll tee with a picture of Colonel Courageous on the front along with the words “Fly Me Courageous.” 

            Francesca had gone on all day, like she was the star of the school, telling everyone about the benefit and showing her pictures.  Celia had had enough. 

            “I’m calling my father!” Francesca yelled after Celia.  She grabbed her phone from her purse and tried to call her father.  The face was black and silent.  She pushed the power button only for it to blink “low battery’ and die. 

            “You better not have broken my phone, bitch.” Francesca said to herself. 

            Celia wasn’t trying to hurt her, she just couldn’t take it.  Not that day, and not from her

            She wasn’t angry at being called a reject.  She let words like “reject,” “outcast,” “misfit,” and “loser” pass right through her.  After years of being called names like that, and worse, she had learned to take them on and make them a part of herself; if not ignore them all together.  It was Francesca’s mention of her father that pushed Celia over the edge. 

            Like most people that knew Celia, Francesca assumed she didn’t know her father, and was a random birth by her ex-groupie mother.  Celia knew who he was, and she hated him.  She hated the mention of his name and everything associated with him.  He was the world’s savior several times over, and all she wanted him to do was die. 

The streetlight above Celia began to glow as dusk moved in.  Light swelled inside the clear globe, then stopped and went dark.  Celia continued on down the darkening street with her fists tight.  She shuddered as her anger began to subside and wash over her body.  A warm tingle emanated from her feet and sparked up through the rest of her body.  She welcomed it, and slowly started to un-ball her fists.   

            Celia was actually sorry for what she had done and figured it would be better if she didn’t go to school for a couple of days.

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