The dream had me so preoccupied and shaken, I barely missed the bullet headed straight for my forehead. Fortunately, the speedster Scotty kept vigilance, and shoved me aside in time.
“What’s up with you, man? Now’s time to focus,” Scotty yelled over the gunfire. I couldn’t really hear him so much as I knew he yelled from the intense expression on his face as I read his lips. My ears rang, all feeling faded, and images blurred together. I threw up my hands and stopped time. Shiny bullets suspended in the air and people, like statues, held an amusing array of poses. I particularly liked the man leaning back, with his mouth and eyes wide open and gun firing from his side like a movie mobster. Another man was mid backflip with his hat hovering beneath him. A woman floated above the ground with blood spraying from her chest.
It’s not a good idea to intervene with a bank robbery when you’re this distracted. Take it from me. I pulled a flask from my inner jacket pocket and poured the burning liquid down my throat.
My dreams often predicted the future, and this recent vision couldn’t happen. In the dream, Aurora stood on the crumbling concrete that was our headquarters. Thick, black smoke filled the air. Her eyes red with rage and her fist were glowing white balls of energy. The rest of our team, blood soaked and wearing torn apart supersuits, prepared to take her down. I woke up because I couldn’t handle what came next. How could the best one of us all, turn into the villain?
I took another swig and winced as it tore down my throat. There must be a way to stop her. Maybe if I could figure out what turned her against us, I could prevent it. I could save her. Maybe then she’d even love me back. Where could it have started? Surely, with Jax, her sidekick, bodyguard and possibly...lover. Acidic bile rose up my throat at that last word. How could she like him? Wait, I knew. His power was super strength, and isn’t that the way of it? Girls will always go for the hulking, muscle man. Even if he wasn’t as clever or witty or wonderful as other options. I bet her turn towards villainous ways began with him.
I decided to travel back to the first night I knew they had spent time together to look for myself. I could only travel to points I was a part of, but then I could follow her to ones I wasn’t privy to. Unfortunately, my powers only allowed me to observe like a ghost, but maybe seeing it could help. I knew he went with her to volunteer after I invited her to the party. I went back to my invite.
She looked beautiful as ever with long copper hair and blue eyes so vibrant they looked like polished gemstones. I watched myself approach her.
“Hey, are you going to Jenna’s party?”
“No.” She shook her head. “You know parties aren’t really my thing. I’m going to serve dinner at the soup kitchen. You could come.”
I never noticed before how excited she looked at that moment. Odd, she’d be thrilled to volunteer, but a light seemed to radiate from within her at the mention of it.
My past-self laughed. “We’ve helped people all day. Don’t you ever want a break?”
She shrugged. “It’s not work for me. I like it.”
“You need to learn to relax. Have fun. Enjoy the world.”
“Maybe we just have different definitions of fun.”
I watched her light fade and her voice turned to annoyance. I don’t think I noticed that at the time. Past-me certainly didn’t look like he noticed at least. “Well, do what you want, but you’ll be missing out.”
When I walked away, she groaned. I could feel life draining out of me from the embarrassment. I knew I must have thought of myself as being flirtatious and charming, but little did I know the anger had already begun brewing inside her. We had been friends since we were kids. Had she felt this way the whole time?
That’s when Jax sauntered down the hallway with his broad-shouldered figure.
“Got any plans tonight?” He asked.
“Not going to Jenna’s party,” she muttered angrily. Why did that bother her so much?
“Okay,” he laughed nervously. “Neither am I.”
She looked up curiously. “I’m going to help serve dinner at the soup kitchen.”
“That sounds nice.”
“You’re welcome to come.”
“Yeah, why not?”
Her smile was so slight. A hint of a smile. Not only her lips but her eyes too. I knew this was the first spark of interest. My heart ached to watch. I reached for my flask. I’d need more soon.
“Have you ever done this before?” She asked him.
“No, but I’ve benefited from it. My old man growing up wasn’t much of a cook. He sustained himself on alcohol. Left me to fend for myself. It’ll be nice to give back.”
She nodded sympathetically. “I hate what alcohol does to people.”
I knew her whole family and none of them were drinkers. Who did she mean? I stared at my reflection in the silver of the flask. Then took another sip.
“I know people think it’s overachieving for me to be a superhero and volunteer, but this is more what makes me happy. Honestly, I don’t love crime fighting. I wish there was a better way.”
What? Who doesn’t love crime fighting? Who is this girl?
“I get what you mean.”
You do? How? You have super strength! Crime fighting should be your thing.
This quest already looked to be more excruciating than I predicted, but I needed to stick with it longer. I could see now how their bond began, but what made them turn on us?
I remembered the night we discovered she had her powers. While I thought up ways to take us from being friends to being something more, a group of seedy thugs picked a fight with me for no reason. As one pulled back his hand to punch, Aurora began to glow. Much like the sun, you had to avert your eyes from her brilliant light. All the men evaporated in the blast she created. She saved my life. Most people would be grateful. I worried that moment sealed my fate as “friend.” I should have been able to defend us. Even now that I have powers, they aren’t really the defending type.
Now that I’m waltzing down our memory lane, I can see a bit of bitterness may have sparked in me then. Seeing how quickly she melted for Jax, the toughest defender of them all, my concerns felt validated though.
I jumped forward a bit to save myself the mushy boredom of their volunteering together and admiring what great people they both were. I couldn’t fathom a benefit to suffering through that. I fast forwarded, if you will, to the night I finally had the guts to ask her out. Twenty years of fawning over her only to crash into this disaster.
I’d finally convinced her to attend a party, I had my fill of liquid courage, and found her sitting by the pool dipping her feet in the glowing water. Lilly was swimming laps in the pool, but no one else was around. Everything seemed perfect.
I sat next to Aurora. Lilly smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back.
“I’ve been told she has a bit of a crush on me,” I whispered to Aurora, wanting to make her jealous.
“Maybe you should ask her out.” She stared into the water and never looked at me.
I shrugged. “She’s easily the most beautiful woman in our group. Maybe the world. That’s not what I want though.”
“It’s too much work being with someone like that. Relationships should be comfortable. Easy.”
My cheeks burned. Relistening to this, it didn’t sound as great as I thought.
Aurora gave me a confused look. “Isn’t that settling?”
“Sometimes settling is a good thing.”
“You know, you’re someone I’ve always been comfortable with.”
“Okay?” She moved away from me slightly. I didn’t notice that in the past.
“I think we should try dating. It makes sense, you know. We’ve known each other forever.”
“You think we should date because we’ve known each other for a long time?”
“You’re not difficult to be around.”
“Uh, yeah. I’m not really interested in that. Sorry.”
“What do you mean you’re not interested?”
Oh, no. I could see that alcohol fueled boldness in my eyes.
“I want to be friends. That’s all.”
“Because of Jax? I never thought you’d be so shallow.”
“Ugh! You sound drunk. I should go.”
She stood up. I jumped up. Jax walked towards the pool with two cans of soda in his hands.
“What kind of man has a mustache without a beard?” I struggled to stand up straight.
That was my insult? I remembered something much better.
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
“You’ve no taste. I don’t know why I wasted my time asking you–”
“I don’t either! I don’t even know why we’re friends anymore. You’re such a stupid jerk!” She stomped away. Jax looked unsure if he should follow. I wanted to push my past-self into the pool. What was wrong with me?
Unable to handle any more humiliation, I brought myself back to the present. Time started and I fired away with one of the enemy’s guns. The group’s goal was to avoid killing but forget that. I unleashed the tidal wave of anger and shame from within me and let it crash down on all these bank robbers and wash out innocent bystanders in its path. They shot first. I’m not bulletproof. I did what I had to. These lines are so rehearsed, they’re practically a mantra.
“What’re you doing?” Lilly shrieked. Her power is invisibility and it’s suitable for her. I never notice she’s there.
I cringed remembering that I woke up next to her the morning after my rejection. A second wave of shame set off more shots. I sucked in air, desperate to hide the tears pooling in my eyes. I needed to get out of here, so I did. I walked right out the door. All the bad guys were now dead anyway.
A small crowd formed to spectate. Normally, we had a much bigger one. I noticed a little boy. I smiled, ready to offer him an autograph or picture. Then I noticed, in his small hands he clutched an Aurora doll. He shied away from me. Aurora and Jax left us to form their own team...well, partnership. We weren't the same now.
“Nice job back there,” Derrick said. He had the power to make things shake like an earthquake. Kind of lame power if you ask me.
“What was that?” Lilly yelled.
“Look, I’m trying to save the world. Back off.”
I could feel the burn of her gaze, but I avoided looking at her.
“Save the world? Geeze, guy. It’s just a silly little bank robbery. Keep your head on your shoulders.” Derrick laughed. He’s such an idiot. Really, I’ve always hated the man.
“Did you have one of your dreams?” Lilly asked. I hated how well she knew me.
“It’s better if I don’t say.”
“Do we die?” She panicked.
“Oh, well, that’s a relief,” Derrick said.
Lilly scrutinized me. “Is it Aurora?”
I sighed. How does she know me so well? I pulled out the flask. Normally I hid it from the team, but why bother? My world was ending if I didn’t think of something soon, and it helped me think. There had to be a way to help her. To show her I’m the best for her.
“Why do you think Jax and her left?” I asked. I couldn’t even say her name.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Scotty laughed. We all headed to our van.
Lilly stopped walking.
“What’s wrong?” Derrick asked.
“I’m so stupid.” Lilly’s shoulders slumped. “I should have picked her side.”
“Her side?” I asked.
Lilly shook her head and then stared into my eyes with a coldness that sent shivers down my spine. “You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”
“I am?” I asked with genuine shock.
Lilly spun around and left us.
“What’s that about?” Derrick chuckled.
I noted Scotty’s silence on the matter.
If only I had the power to change the past. I could redo all those stupid moments. I could do all those lame things Jax did like bringing her to her favorite movie on her birthday.
The night of her birthday was a disaster too. Honestly, I didn’t know it was her birthday, so I didn’t mean for it to be. I thought her birthday was the twenty-first, but it was the twelfth. Easy mistake to make. I paused time and went back to that night. We were lightheartedly teasing Aurora and Jax while they weren’t around, and she happened to walk in and overhear. She left crying and with my cloak of time traveling invisibility, I now followed her to see what happened.
I found her crying on Jax’s shoulder, of course.
“I don’t get why he won’t just leave me alone.”
“You don’t deserve it.”
“I know he’s angry I wouldn’t date him, but you should have heard how he asked. It sounded like he didn’t even like me, but it was some kind of thing to do. He’s never shown any reason to like me at all actually. We have nothing in common. It doesn’t make sense.”
Jax nodded sympathetically.
“I don’t like how they treat you either. They’re bullies.”
“He’s the meanest person. It makes me sick.”
“You can’t let them get to you.”
“I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“But it’s your birthday. I have something planned.”
“You remembered? No one else did.”
“Of course. Let’s have some fun and put this all behind us.”
My fist clenched. Meanest person? Everything I do is for you.
I returned to the present with a plan. There was a sorcerer who might be able to help me change the past. I’d make sure that her, and her moron Jax never met. It’s clear he polluted her head somehow, but this could still be fixed. The world would be saved from her destruction. She thinks I’m the mean one when I’m the only one who can save the world from her.
“I’m going to the Sorcerer,” I said. We weren’t supposed to. He was considered a bad guy.
“Ugh, not again. Didn’t you learn anything last time?”
“You went to get that serum that would temporarily shut down Jax’s powers so everyone could beat the shit out of him.”
“That was hilarious!” Derrick said.
“You put him in the hospital,” Scotty said.
“Doesn’t make it less hilarious,” Derrick argued. “He healed as soon as his powers came back.”
“I don’t remember that.” An image of Aurora wailing and throwing things at me entered my mind. I assumed the two were related.
“You were too drunk,” Scotty said in a mocking tone like that happened often. Maybe if I wasn’t under so much stress all the time, I wouldn’t need to drink. Maybe if something went my way for once, I’d be better.
I continued to dwell on all this while we sat in the living room. Scotty held a bong in his hands with the delicate tenderness of someone holding a puppy. Derrick sniffed a long white line of powder off the glass coffee table. The TV in front of us was replaying our heroic bank robbery save. Only they weren’t calling it heroic. There was a lot of emphasis on our “excessive use of violence.”
“Look, if I don’t do something, Aurora will destroy this whole place. Maybe even the world. I don’t see all the details in my visions.”
“You want to know how to fix it?” Scotty asked while sucking in smoke.
“Leave her alone.”
I can’t do that. I’ve created my whole life around her. Who would I be?
“Why do you even like her?” Derrick asked. “She’s boring.”
“Because...nevermind that. We’re heroes. We’re supposed to stop the villains.”
They both grew silent. The reporter continued on about accountability and when does the bad outweigh the good. Derrick laughed like it was such nonsense, but Scotty looked disappointed.
“Honestly, I’m not sure we are the heroes anymore,” Scotty said. He stood and without him needing to say anything, I knew he planned to leave. That'd leave only Derrick. Did I interpret the dream wrong? They all were facing me. I assumed as their wise leader and Aurora as her enemy. I couldn't bring down a building, but...I looked at Derrick still grinning and giving me a can-you-believe-him look about Scotty.
I laughed incredulously. “We’re not bad guys.”