I shot up the street and heard Cent chasing after me.
Wind rushed past my face, and my lungs burned in exhilaration. I dashed up the pavement as fast as possible, determined to win this time. His cries of frustration echoed behind me.
I turned a sharp corner, dodging a few people. My goal—a small brown building—rapidly grew closer. I grinned in victory.
Thump, thump, thump.
It was the sound of pounding footsteps creeping at my heels. I strained my neck, and sure enough, Cent was closing in.
Cursing, I willed my legs to pump faster. The little brown shop loomed bigger every second.
Thump, thump, thump.
It felt like time was slowing down; as though the air itself turned into jelly, preventing me from going faster. I let out a cry of indignation, because, well—I knew time really was slowing down.
Suddenly, the store stood right in front of me—only a few steps further—but everything lugged at a snail’s pace. I knew I could break free, if I just pushed harder—
Thump, thump, thump.
Something blurry whipped past me. A moment later, I was bent over, clutching my knees and gasping for breath; glaring at my best friend.
Cent slapped the shop’s window, huffing hard. He was the one grinning now.
“You cheated again, you idiot!”
Cent rolled his eyes. “You’re just a sore loser, Noah.”
“I am not! You just can’t beat me properly, can you?” He scoffed in disagreement, but I kept going, “That’s the third time this week you’ve had to use your stupid abilities! In broad daylight, too! Do you know how many people are here? What if you’d been caught? Huh?!”
People were coming in and out of the shop, shooting irritated looks at our loud voices. I clenched my teeth, unable to care.
See, once we got over the initial giddiness of Cent having goddamn superpowers, his lack of control quickly became apparent, and after a few disastrous incidents, I decided to spend the summer helping him out.
We also agreed not to let people know—I doubted the government would appreciate the existence of strange mysterious forces (I’ve seen too many movies, I know)—at least, until he exercised better restraint. So far, Cent could only slow down time in bubbles of space, with the largest being able to expand to the size of a compact car. Yet, now this idiot was practically begging the world to notice, ruining all of our hard work.
It was ironic, really. We both loved superheroes and everything to do with them. Then, when one of us got to live the dream, well… I discovered that having a superpowered best friend was really annoying, especially with no special abilities myself.
“You fret like an old lady! I made it look like you were only getting tired, so stop worrying.” I glared at him in disbelief. “Alright, alright! I’m sorry, you win! Let’s just go inside, ok?” He nudged his head at the shop, “Daniella’s waiting for us, remember?” I scowled at him, yet glanced at the building. Squeezed between a cafe and a laundromat, it looked washed out compared to its neighbors. The sign at the top once read “West Feature Comics”, but some paint had flaked off, making it “We eat Comics”. Oh, and it was my favorite place in the world.
I searched through the windows and spotted the owner—Daniella—in the back. She was an amiable woman, but would not tolerate any lateness.
“You’re paying this time,” I growled, before spinning into the store. I heard him following me, blabbering his usual apologies.
Immediately my vision became overwhelmed by red, yellow and blue. The place was drowning in comic books, and posters of superheroes splattered every inch of spare wall. My mood immediately improved.
A middle-aged woman sat behind the counter. She spotted us and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Is it here?” I asked Danella, excitement creeping through my voice.
“Yup, I’ve been holding it for you all day.” I grinned at Cent, and he grinned back—our previous argument forgotten. “If you two weren’t our most loyal customers, I wouldn’t have bothered. This was really hard to get, you know.” Daniella handed me a plastic bag, and inside of it was gold, aka an old comic.
Cent and I expressed our gratitude, paid for the item, and slowly backed away from the counter. We immediately agreed not to open it here, lest it be damaged.
As usual, we spent the next half hour browsing aisles, discussing the newer issues (most of which really sucked), and talking about what we would do if we could write comics. Right when we started getting into which superhero Hollywood should adapt next (I wanted Moon Knight and Cent was for Nova), a rather snooty voice interrupted them.
“Mom says you have to stop your nerd talk and come home now.”
A girl—no more than fourteen—stood in front of them, tapping her foot irritatedly. She wore a pink and white ballet uniform, clashing with her oddly intimidating aura.
I glared at her. Katie glared back.
Yes, we had a very loving sibling relationship.
I opened my mouth to protest, but then Cent jumped in, “It’s alright, my dad wants me home early, anyway.” He smiled at me and left before I could say anything.
I couldn’t blame him. Me and my sister argued a lot, and it could get pretty awkward for outsiders. My mind flashed to a particularly nasty screaming match concerning whether chocolate ice cream was better than strawberry. It took a full week before we started talking again. Yup, real pleasant stuff.
Wordlessly, I followed Katie, who graciously left me in the dust.
“What happened to your precious dance class?” I taunted, trying to catch up. She rarely finished practicing this early.
Scowling, she stuck her nose in the air, and said, “Dance is way better than your weirdo hobbies. Who the heck still collects com—”
Abruptly, a car pulled up beside us. The expensive black paint gleamed in the sunlight, filling me with apprehension. A tinted window rolled down, revealing the face of a handsome older man; his greying hair styled neatly. His suit and tie peaked through the tinged glass.
“Hey, kiddo!” My dad smiled at me, and I forced myself to smile back. He gestured for us to get inside, which we quickly did. My sister stared silently out the window while Dad questioned me about my day. I shifted uncomfortably, wishing he’d discuss this stuff with my sister instead. She loved chattering about her dancing instructor and the gossip surrounding her friends. But, like always, Katie remained stonily silent, and my Dad didn’t bother to engage her. So, I went on, and once I got to the part where she called me back, I kept my tone casual and uncaring.
He frowned, glancing at my sister. “Your mom made you come home?”
“It’s alright,” I said hastily. “Cent had to leave anyway, it would’ve been boring without him.” Dad pursed his lips, but he nodded. I stared at my shoes and spent the rest of the ride in silence.
When we finally pulled into our driveway, I sped inside the house and rushed up the stairs into my room. I knew my mom wouldn’t like that. She thought I was getting too rude already—Katie always greeted her when they got home, but right now I didn’t really care. No form of politeness would make her listen to me, anyway.
I flopped onto my bed and stuffed some headphones into my ears. Music blasted into my skull whilst I scanned the plastic-wrapped object in my hands.
My mouth curved, tracing the bright drawings on the cover. I promised Cent we would read it together (a little tradition of ours). He probably wouldn’t mind if I flipped through it, but it’d still feel wrong.
“—hy did you have to call Noah back so early? It’s still summer vacation, and that boy needs to have more fun. He hardly ever left the house before meeting Cent!” Dad’s words echoed up the stairs.
I sighed and turned up the volume, knowing it wouldn’t help.
My mom roared even louder, “He does not need more fun! That boy has been taking it far too easy these days, wasting all his money on some stupid drawings. Do you even care about him and Katie staying out alone so late?!”
“Katie’s always with her dance instructor, and Noah’s already fifteen! He and Cent can take care of themselves. Besides—”
The door creaked open, and my sister walked in quietly. Like always, she sat down in the corner, looking down at her phone. I never bothered to kick her out.
“—cannot believe you!” Her voice became progressively louder.
“Well, I can’t believe you called his comic books stupid! Just because you don’t care how Noah feels—”
“I DON’T CARE?! YOU’RE THE ONE WHO FORGOT TO PICK UP KATIE FROM HER DANCE RECITAL!”
The shouting devolved into something ineligible. I managed to hear Dad say, “—DIDN’T FORGET! I TOLD YOU THERE WAS A WORK MEETING THAT CAME OUT OF NOWHER—”
My eyes roved the back of the comic book. Why can’t I make one of those time bubbles? Cent used his powers to win stupid races, so couldn’t I just have a bit of quiet? A moment without the pandering smiles… no taking sides...
“SO YOU CARE MORE ABOUT YOUR JOB THAN YOUR OWN CHIL—”
Eventually, my eyelids began to droop. I crashed into bed with my headphones still in—vainly hoping it would block out the screaming. After a while, I heard Katie padding out the door.
When the sun rose the next day, I didn’t bother to eat breakfast. Instead, I seized the plastic wrapped comic book, grabbed a bit of money, and rushed out the door. Thankfully, my mom wasn’t awake to stop me.
I quickly reached Cent’s house and knocked on the door. He answered with a yawn and bleary eyes, but the confusion left his face in an instant.
A moment passed. “Want some food?” Gratefully, I nodded.
Cent never asked too many questions. He didn’t need to.
I said my greetings to his father, a disheveled looking man with kind crinkling eyes, who I couldn’t help but like. Unlike my own house, theirs was cool and quiet, with various succulents scattered throughout, giving the place a fresh smell.
After a quick breakfast, we headed to the downtown area, entering a cafe beside the comic store. I opened up the plastic bag, and we took turns reading through the issue. After an hour, I yawned widely. We both got up, preparing to go to the park and play some basketball.
“You’re in so much trouble,”
Katie stood beside their table, a smug expression plastered onto her face. I turned away, promptly ignoring her. Cent sighed and nodded at her politely.
I glanced down at my phone and involuntarily winced. There were dozens of missed phone calls and text messages, all from my mom.
Seeing the expression of dread on my face seemed to satisfy her, because Katie left a moment later. I glimpsed a few of her friends waiting for her outside. They seemed different, a bit more mean than usual. I didn’t give it much thought; she went through her cronies like clothes: a new bunch every week.
“I’ll see you later, it’ll be worse if I keep stalling,” Will she take away my internet or ground me for a month?
“I’ll walk with you then.”
Glumly, I exited the cafe with Cent, hearing Katie’s friends all laughing loudly, a little too loudly. They were gathering at the edge of the street ahead. It was the busiest time of day, especially around this area, and cars zipped past the road like flies.
“What are you doing—stop—AAGH!” I heard the unmistakable scream of my sister.
All at once, she was stumbling in the middle of the street. From the look on her face, someone had pushed her.
I glanced ahead, and saw something big and black approaching: a truck. Somehow, I knew that by the time it stopped, it would be too late.
The comic book slipped from my fingers and my legs moved automatically. Someone yelled behind me—probably Cent. But I didn’t stop, I couldn’t.
Suddenly I was in the middle of the road, using all my strength to shove Katie away.
My ears rang. People were screaming. Red and yellow lights flashed in my face.
HONK! HONK! HONK!
Too late—there was no time to run. I shut my eyes, hoping there wasn’t any pain.
HONK! HONK! HOONNNKK!!!!
For a second, everything felt strange. Like the air temporarily sucked in its breath, waiting for me to die.
Then—something hard crashed into me. I felt my back explode with pain, and the world melted into darkness.
I opened my eyes, blinking hard against the bright light. Like all hospitals, it smelled too clean. Eventually, I made out a slumped figure on my right. I started. It was Katie—except it wasn’t Katie. Her hair appeared disheveled and her clothing unkempt. Before I knew it, she was clutching onto me, sobbing hysterically with apologies.
It was all quite unsettling, almost as unsettling as being alive.
Bile formed in the back of my throat, and I fought back the urge to empty my guts. Cent saved me. In a street full of people. The entire world knew about his powers now. Nothing crazy at all.
The door swung open and Cent himself entered, looking exhausted. “Don’t worry, I had the doctors tell the reporters off. Oh, and I’ve explained everything to Katie.”
I swallowed weakly. “R-reporters?”
“They’ve already badgered away at me, but the police said you could stay quiet for now.” I felt myself pale. Cent seemed to notice, because he pushed me down onto the bed, told me to rest, and left soon after. Katie stayed behind, even when the lights went out, likely wanting to say something.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, proving me right. “Those people who pushed me… I should’ve realized—I always thought I was smart… but that was just my excuse to be stupid.”
I shifted awkwardly. “It’s ok, I—”
“It’s not ok!” I gawked, startled at the bitterness in her voice. “I always wanted to make them happy, make him happy. He loves you so much, but… me…”
Slowly, I looked up at Katie, and looked hard. All at once, she seemed like someone different. Someone I never noticed. Someone my father had never noticed.
“I was the same,” I blurted out. She swirled her head; mouth agape.
“Mom—she always—I always hated myself for not being you. With you, she’s proud. But me… I’m just so lacking.”
“How are you lacking?”
“Well…” I shifted uncomfortably. “Mom always says you’re exactly like her, with so many friends and stuff. Plus, she doesn’t think your hobbies are weird or dumb…”
We stared at each other. The monitor at my side kept beeping, and each second felt like a year.
Katie giggled out of nowhere. “We’re both so stupid!”
She and I laughed together, scaring the hell out of a passing nurse.
For the next few weeks, I mostly stayed in the infirmary, trying not to go crazy (a difficult task—considering my parents). I hardly saw Cent, and when I did, he looked miserable. Somehow, I always thought he’d enjoy this moment, what with that careless attitude, and constantly ignoring my warnings. Sometimes.... well—it felt like he wanted to get caught.
Anyways, once I escaped from both the hospital and my parents' clutches, I waited until everyone else was asleep, before collapsing onto my mattress.
Rain pattered down the roof, lulling me to close my eyes.
I scowled. Only an idiot would ring the doorbell this late.
Someone else will open it.
Time ticked on. Rain drilled against the ceiling.
Growling, I trudged downstairs and swung the door open. To my surprise, Cent stood there, shivering and looking very downcast.
He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Thundered boomed as silence reigned between us. I knew my face mirrored his own expression of discomfort. It’s been a while.
Rain ricocheted off the ground, like thousands of tiny bullets being fired from an army in the sky.
Why is he here? His house is a way better place to crash.
I squinted through the darkness, peering at his face. It seemed so unrecognizable, as though I was seeing it for the first time. I squinted harder. His arms were shaking.
My mind flashed to my sister, who—until a few weeks ago—I never imagined would ever be jealous of me.
Perhaps… I was being just as stupid. Maybe Cent didn't think his house was better… maybe he never did.
Then, I couldn’t help but wonder how much it must’ve sucked—not having time for comics, that is.
“Want some food?” I asked. For a moment, we stared at each other. Then, he relaxed and slowly nodded.
I moved aside to let him in.
For the rest of the night, we watched awful movies, ate a lot of junk food, and reminisced on all the dumb things we’d done together. I didn’t ask any questions.
I didn’t need to.