Monday, I felt angry and anxious when I went to school. I was angry because I still felt astounded at Jim's cowardice the night before. I was anxious because I knew my real love, Astonishing Man, was waiting for me somewhere, and would surely make his move as soon as he saw that I was single once more and quite interested.
Of course, I couldn't break up with Jim right there at school; that would have been too unkind. Instead, I met up with him and planned a casual date for that night. I'd break up with him at the same restaurant where we'd had our first study date.
When I got home after school, I stood in front of a mirror and practiced the words I'd say that night when I broke up with Jim. I didn't want to be too cruel, but at the same time, I wanted to remain firm as we broke up. It wouldn't do for him to still hope we had a chance of getting back together.
Finally, the hour arrived, and I headed down to the café. Of course, I showed up early as I tended to do. I found a table and left my jacket there to claim it. Then, I wandered around, wondering who else was out on the Monday night.
I spotted a boy across the café who looked somewhat familiar. I remembered the last time I'd struck up a conversation with a boy I didn't quite know and how bad that had turned out, but seeing as this boy already looked familiar, I figured there was no harm in walking up to him.
"Hi," I said with a smile, standing over his table.
"Clevette!" the boy practically shouted, jumping when he saw me.
"We know each other," I observed. "I knew you looked familiar. Sorry, what's your name again?"
"I'm Kevin," the boy replied, and now I remembered that he was the boy who had been sitting with Nick the first night we'd met. Of course, just because they were friends, it didn't mean they both were stalkers. Even so, I felt nervous all of a sudden.
"Right, I remember you," I announced.
"Listen, Clevette," Kevin sighed. "I don't want any trouble, all right? I'm just enjoying a nice dinner, and you came up to me, so why don't you just leave me alone, all right?"
"What are you talking about?" I demanded.
"I heard about Nick," Kevin countered.
"Nick?" I repeated. "Nick stalked me. He'd park in front of my house and wait for me to come home from school. I'm just glad he stopped."
"So, you don't know why he stopped?" Kevin wondered.
"No," I answered.
"Astonishing Man beat him up," Kevin announced.
"What?" I cried.
"I guess you complained to him that Nick was bothering him, so Astonishing Man came after him," Kevin explained.
"No way," I cried. "No, Astonishing Man isn't a bully."
"Tell that to Nick," Kevin complained.
Irritated by the claim but unable to make any defense, I replied, "Whatever. Is that why Nick stopped following me around?"
"Nick's not that bad of a person," Kevin assured me.
"Maybe that's true," I responded. "Frankly, though, the fact that a guy who's six years older than me has been following me around has really discouraged me from getting to know you."
Kevin rolled his eyes and returned his attention to his food, pointedly ignoring me. Irritated with his refusal to believe the truth, I turned and strode away in irritation.
When I returned to the table, Jim was already there. Apparently one of the waitresses who went to school with us both had directed him toward where I was sitting. "Hey, Jim," I chirped as I sat down at his table.
"Oh, hi," Jim replied, seeming startled to see me. He must have been waiting for me for a while. I mentally cringed, for while I planned to dump him, I didn't want to make him suffer.
"So, what's up?" I asked.
"Nothing really," Jim answered. "Why were you so anxious to meet tonight?"
I took a deep breath. I'd hoped not to push the issue until we'd at least ordered, but I guess that Jim somehow sensed that something was going to happen. "We need to talk," I said.
"Oh, boy," Jim breathed. "About what?"
I played with my fork, very uncomfortable with what I was about to do. "I don't think things are really working out between us."
A very pained look crossed Jim's face, and he asked, "Really?"
"Yeah, really," I answered.
I'd never imagined that Jim could look so hurt. He could have just about any girl he wanted, and he looked like he was on the verge of tears because I was about to dump him. He deserved better; not that I wanted to be with him. I had someone better waiting. Still, Jim's pain was troubling.
"What's wrong?" he wondered, his voice warbling.
"Oh, nothing specific, really," I murmured, embarrassed to admit that I was actually dumping him to be with another man. "It's just a lot of things, to be honest. We have some differences of opinions on some pretty key issues-"
"Like what?" Jim interrupted.
"Like a lot of things," I answered. "Listen, Jim, I've had a lot of fun, all right? Our dates have been great, but I don't feel that way about you."
"Of course you do," Jim argued his sadness apparent.
"No, I don't," I argued, but tears were welling in my eyes. I realized then that I really didn't want to break up with Jim. Still, I'd go through with it. Even though I didn't want to break up, I didn't want to give up my chances with Astonishing Man, either.
The next hour may have been one of the most painful of my life. I returned home in tears, and hoped to escape to my bedroom to mourn the relationship in peace. Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to happen, as I had the misfortune to enter my house just as the rest of my family sat down to dinner.
"I thought you were on a date with Jim," my mom observed before she turned around in her chair to actually look at me. "Clevette!" she gasped. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I replied irritably, wiping my tears away on the back of my arm."
"It doesn't look like nothing's wrong," she countered in that irritating way that adults have of getting to the root of a problem when you don't want to talk about it. "Come over here, and tell us all about it." She gestured to the open chair at the table.
Not only was I not interested in talking about the break-up, I also had no desire whatsoever to be the center of attention while my family ate dinner. I could only imagine my parents' and brother's compassionate stares boring into me while I recapped every element of the conversation I'd just finished.
"That's all right," I said. "It's just that Jim and I just broke up, is all."
"He dumped you?" Antonio demanded, assuming that I was the undesirable one, of course. "But he was crazy about you."
"He still is, apparently," I replied. "No, I dumped him."
"Why?" my father demanded. "I liked him."
"He's a nice guy," I agreed. "It just wasn't working out."
That seemed to be enough of an explanation for my parents, who both nodded in understanding. Antonio, however, seemed unconvinced. "I thought you loved Jim," he announced.
"Antonio, I'm fourteen years old," I countered. "I don't even know what love is."
My father nodded, apparently quite pleased with this declaration. "That's very wise, Clevette," he said, talking around the mouthful of cornbread he'd just bitten. "Very wise indeed."
Somewhat unnerved by the absurdity of this whole conversation, I chose that moment to retreat to my bedroom. By now, my embarrassment over the whole conversation with my family overweighed my distress over the break up, and I'd stopped crying. Unfortunately, the situation wasn't resolved, as less than five minutes passed before I heard a hesitant tap at my door. Irritated, I opened my door to see Antonio standing outside.
"What do you want?" I demanded.
"I was hoping to talk to you," Antonio answered. "Maybe about Jim?"
"There's nothing to talk about," I countered. "What needs to be said I already have said. Is that it, because I've got some homework I'd like to get done." I turned my back on him as an un-subtle way of telling him I didn't want to see him.
Antonio, however, was not to be deterred. "Clevette, is everything all right?" he asked.
"Of course it is," I spat. "Why?"
"You've kind of been acting different lately," my brother proclaimed.
"How so?" I demanded.
Antonio opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. Apparently deciding to avoid confrontation, he murmured, "Forget about it. It's not important."
If I was in a slightly different mood, I probably would have been concerned about Antonio's declaration that I was acting differently. After all, I'd gone to great efforts to hide my abilities and to keep my identity secret, but I couldn't deny that I had, indeed acted a bit differently over the past months to try to keep my double life as secret as it was.
However, I wasn't in the mood to be suspicious or to be worried that night, so I dismissed his concerns maybe a bit too quickly. "No, it's not important," I agreed. "Now, please. Leave me alone."
Antonio left, and I closed the door behind me and locked it. Once I was certain that I was alone and had my privacy, I fell down onto my bed to sob loudly for almost an entire hour. I wasn't really certain why I cried; after all, it had been my choice to break up with Jim, and I certainly didn't regret the decision. I guess every break up is difficult, regardless of the circumstances.
Anyway, by the time I'd finished crying, I was not only resigned to what I was about to do, but I was excited about what I would do that night. I began by sneaking in the hallway, not wanting to be seen tear-streaked as I was. I didn't have any doubt that my family already knew exactly what I'd been doing in my room, but I still had enough shame to try to hide my tears.
In the bathroom, I washed my smeared make-up off my face, then reapplied it. Looking fresh and pretty once more, I returned to my bedroom to change my clothes.
In anticipation of what I'd be doing during our date, I hadn't made much effort to make myself up for my date with Jim that evening. While I normally strove to at least look nice, I'd intentionally dressed very plain for dinner. Now, however, I sought to make myself into a vision.
After digging through my closet, I selected a white dress with a wide, flowing skirt that was sure to billow around my legs beautifully when I flew. I pictured myself soaring through the sky, a vision in white, an angel on earth. This was what I had to wear.
As I closed my closet, I spotted my Lightning Girl costume within. Normally, I'd be uncertain about flying about not in costume, as I wouldn't want to be spotted. Tonight was about romance rather than crime-fighting, however, so I'd just have to trust that if anyone saw me, they'd dismiss the vision as a hallucination. Anyway, there shouldn't have been that many people out late on a Monday night anyway.
I drifted on the currents of wind above town, scanning the streets for a tell-tale indication that Astonishing Man patrolled below. Either I wasn't looking closely enough, or maybe Astonishing Man was good at hiding and laying in wait for villains, but nearly a full boring hour passed before I finally found him.
I spotted Astonishing Man sitting atop the public library, brooding on a ledge. Although I'd never considered his visage particularly demonic, he seemed to blend in with the gargoyles atop the building. Maybe it was just the spacing; I don't know.
I lowered myself, aware that my skirt and my hair flapped about dramatically about me as I moved counter to the breezes I'd ridden moments before. When I came close to landing and floated only a few feet above Astonishing Man's head, he finally noticed me and turned around.
"What are you doing?" he demanded as my feet finally touched solid ground atop the library.
"I'm looking for you," I said in the flirtiest way possible. "Tag, you're it."
Somewhat disappointed by Astonishing Man's inability or refusal to play along with my flirtations, I changed my tactics. "How's the crime-fighting going?" I asked. "Slow as usual?"
"Yes," Astonishing Man answered. "Quite slow, in fact. I was just about to head back home for the night until you showed up."
"Interesting," I replied. "Does that mean you don't have plans for the rest of the night?"
"I might need to make some if you think you're going to be crime-fighting," Astonishing Man replied. "The last thing I need is for you to cause more trouble. And why aren't you wearing your costume? Do you really think you're going to accomplish anything in that dress?"
Irritated by his patronizing tone, I found myself wondering why I'd even had a crush on this guy in the first place. He didn't really treat me with all that much respect. Still, I was here now, and forcefully, I pushed my doubts out of my mind, refusing to let them stop me from pursuing my destiny.
"I'm not here to fight crime," I announced. Taking a step a bit closer so that I could maybe cuddle up against him, I explained, "I'm here to be with you."
"I'm going home," Astonishing Man grumbled, walking away from me.
"Wait!" I called, starting after him. "Are you really going to leave such a romantic night just to go sleep at home?"
"Romantic?" Astonishing Man repeated. "No thanks!"
Now I was so irritated by his rejection that I didn't even want to start a relationship with him, but the competitive part of me needed him to at least admit he was interested in me. "Astonishing Man, I don't think you understand the situation," I implored. "I'm not suggesting anything illicit; Jim and I broke up earlier this evening. I'm free to be yours."
Astonishing Man cursed, and I started. I'm not particularly bothered by cursing, but I'd never thought of Astonishing Man as the sort of person to use those words, and I couldn't help but be shocked by the outburst. "Is that why you broke up with him?" Astonishing Man demanded.
"Well, it's not like I'm desperate," I murmured. "I broke up with him because I don't feel that way about him. You, on the other hand. . ."
"Trust me, Clevette," Astonishing Man muttered, "you really don't want that."
"Oh, so now you're protecting me from yourself?" I demanded. "It's not like you've never flirted with me."
"I never flirted with you," Astonishing Man said emphatically.
"You addressed me by name that night I tried to rescue that woman," I insisted.
"That doesn't count as flirting," Astonishing Man insisted.
"Well, it was the way you said it," I argued. "I mean, you gave away that you knew who I was. You recognized me even through my costume. Clearly, you have a thing for me."
"Clevette, go home," Astonishing Man sighed.
Frustrated by the whole conversation, I flew away in irritation. When I reached my house, I found myself crying, even though I didn't know why. I didn't care about Astonishing Man; I was sure of that now. Even so, I felt the need to talk to someone.
Glancing at the clock in my room, I knew it was too late to call Hanna. I didn't particularly feel like confiding in my brother, but I knew that despite our differences, he was a good brother and would support me in my time of need.
Choking back tears, I left my own room to tap on Antonio's door. He didn't answer right away, and I called, "Antonio? Are you in there?"
To this day, I don't know why he didn't answer. Maybe he didn't hear. Either way, I opened the door at what must have been the most inopportune time for him.
Astonishing Man stood in my brother's room. His back was to me, and his mask was off. I froze, and Astonishing Man turned around. I gasped. The face beneath was that of Antonio.
For the next hour and a half, my brother and I chatted about all that had happened. While I blushed in humiliation as to my crush, he explained that he'd discovered his powers while we were still under observation at the hospital. He hadn't told the doctors because he'd been anxious to be released, and had planned his super hero career before we were ever released.
And there you have it. That's the story of my encounters with Astonishing Man, and the aftermath. I've never told anyone else about it, not only because I want to protect my brother's secret identity, but also because I'm still particularly embarrassed about everything that's happened.
I apologized to Jim the day after I broke up with him, and begged him to take me back. To my immense relief, he did. Now, as I write this, we've been going out for a whole two months, and I couldn't be happier.
I've given up my secret life as Lightning Girl. Antonio has been teaching me some simple fighting moves so that my abilities aren't totally useless, and maybe someday I'll adopt my old persona again, maybe after Antonio goes away to college. Man, I'm going to miss that kid.
He still fights crime as Astonishing Man, and so far as I know, he will continue to for years. He's picked a college, and hopes that his powers will go to better use once he lives in a big city. I wish him the best, although I fear about the danger he'll put himself into.
And I guess that's it. Who knows what the future holds, but as for the past, well, despite my humiliation and everything else, I'm glad of all that's happened. If nothing else, I guess it makes for a great story.