Superheroine - Chapter 40

Four days later.

As she sat by Ethan’s hospital bed and held his hand, tears streamed down Beth’s face. They were tears of relief, not sadness. Ethan had been mostly unconscious for several days, and had missed John’s funeral, but now he sat up in bed, looking tired but otherwise alert. Before Beth’s arrival, Ethan’s doctor had informed him he should make a full recovery within a few weeks.

Beth had arrived for her daily vigil fearing the worst, expecting a repeat of John’s condition. Whether Dominick had subjected Ethan to a different process than John, or his body had reacted differently, she didn’t know. She was glad she wouldn’t lose him.

“Quite the ride, huh?” Ethan asked, his voice weak.

The sound of his voice almost moved Beth to throw herself at her friend and embrace him, but his body might not be ready for such force. Instead, she wiped away her tears and squeezed his hand.

“If this had been a movie, critics would have panned it as too unrealistic,” she replied through her sniffles. A thin smile was on her face.

“I know!” Ethan said, his voice mustering strength. “A real-life superheroine. Incredible!”

“Yes, it is,” Beth said, forcing a smile and biting her lip. “But I meant the whole thing, not just Sapphire Angel.”

“Beth, I wish you could have been there,” he said, seemingly oblivious to her comment, and speaking with such gusto he didn’t appear sick. “Well, not really, because then you would have been in danger, too. But I wish you could have seen her. Strong, beautiful, brave, righteous… she was like a goddess on earth.”

Beth wore the fake smile of a runner-up in a spelling bee and shifted in her seat.

“I’m sure she was just trying to help,” she said.

“I’d be dead without her,” Ethan said. “And not just because she saved me at the warehouse. Someone like her fills people with hope. That’s doubly true when you see her in the flesh. I think that’s why I’ve fought this thing off, and John…”

Ethan’s voice trailed off, and he looked away from her. Beth considered his words. John had seen Sapphire Angel in the flesh, and it hadn’t helped him. But it had been different for John. To John, Sapphire Angel wasn’t a mysterious, larger-than-life heroine. Sapphire Angel was Beth, his girlfriend. Beth wiped away more tears.

“Sorry, Beth,” Ethan murmured, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. “That was a dumb thing for me to say.”

“It’s okay,” she replied softly. “It’s been tough for all of us.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, yes, it’s been tough for all of us. But you’ve had it the toughest. Well, you and the Devors.”

“How are they doing? They’ve been so busy with the funeral arrangements and all the other chaos, I’ve barely seen them since the night you were rescued.”

“They were here a little while ago when the doctor gave me the good news. I think that helped. They kept apologizing for not being here much the last few days, like I wouldn’t understand with all they had on their plate.”

“Sounds just like them. I think they need to focus on themselves for a while and stop worrying about us.”

“Mrs. D is down in the cafeteria now. I think Stanley planned to find somewhere near the waiting room to hole up and get some work done. He said he wanted to talk to you when you’re done here.”

Beth nodded, but said nothing. Thinking about Stanley and his wife, and the pain they must feel, had her fighting back tears again.

“I hope we haven’t seen the last of Sapphire Angel,” Ethan said, pulling her back from her sorrow. “I mean, what if she only showed up to deal with those Fizzure people, and now we’ll never hear from her again?”

Beth chewed her lip. She had given Sapphire Angel’s continued existence considerable thought, but she couldn’t share those thoughts with Ethan.

“I guess time will tell,” she said.

“It would be a shame if that’s it,” Ethan continued. “I don’t think I’ve seen excitement like this in years. At least not around here. She’s all over the local news and the Internet, and everyone talks about her. Even the doctors and nurses here have been asking me about her, since I’ve been awake. There seems to be an optimism now that this area sorely needs. And, of course, us guys would love to see more of her.”

Beth said nothing, shifting in her seat once again. Ethan misread her discomfort and raised a hand in apology.

“Oh geez, I’m sorry, Beth. There I go saying something dumb again. Gushing about a woman, like a pig.”

“That’s okay, Ethan,” she said, forcing a thin smile. “If I ever get over John, I’m sure I’ll be talking to you about guys someday.”

If I ever get over John. At the moment, she couldn‘t envision that day ever coming. John wouldn’t want her to mourn forever, but his death seemed so intertwined with the changes in her life, she might never get past it.

Ethan reached out a hand and touched her arm.

“It will be hard, but we’ll get through this,” he said. “Together.”

She nodded and wiped away a tear.

“I hope it is together,” she said, before rushing to add, “I mean, not together like that. Here, together in the same town.”

“I know what you mean,” he said with a small laugh.

“I need one of these online writing jobs to pan out, so I can work from anywhere.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Just make sure you graduate first. I hope you’re not too far behind at school. You better not still be hanging around here because of me.”

In fact, he was the reason she had stayed after the funeral. She would never tell him, though.

“I wasn’t. I had some loose ends to take care of. But I’ll probably head back tomorrow morning.”

They talked for a few more minutes about their plans, before Ethan’s eyelids drooped. Beth gave his hand a soft squeeze and leaned in to kiss his forehead.

“I should let you rest,” she said. “I’m going to find Stanley.”

Beth found Stanley in the same small meeting room where the doctor had first given them John’s dire prognosis. He had grabbed the room for himself by spreading papers and file folders on every surface, and he sat on the sofa with his notebook computer on his lap. He looked up from the sofa when she entered.

“Come on in, Beth,” Stanley said in his booming voice, clearing a spot next to him.

Beth closed the glass door behind her and sat next to Stanley. He looked at her, empathy in his eyes.

“I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you, Beth, the last few days. You have nobody to talk to about it, except me, and I’ve been tied up.”

“Stanley, good grief, you of all people don’t have — ”

He held up a hand, cutting her off.

“It’s okay,” he said, giving her a gentle smile. “I’ve had enough people worrying about my feelings the last few days. I’d rather not talk about my problems for a while. It will be a relief to talk about something else.”

“Are you sure?” she replied, hesitation in her voice. Although she had been aching to talk to someone about the changes in her life, it didn’t feel right to turn attention to herself, with all Stanley had lost.

“Absolutely,” he answered with a firm nod. “And I’ve been curious to get an update from you, anyway. The last time we talked, you were consumed with making sense of the tunnel of light. Any luck?”

Beth gave a slow nod, considering her words.

“You’re right. I have been consumed with it. Thinking about it. Focusing on it. Trying to see it again. Even dreaming about it. I’ll cut to the chase, Stanley. I’ve figured out how to summon it.”

She expected a bigger reaction, but Stanley sat silent, watching her. She continued.

“I’ve learned how to get my mind just right — focused, but kind of blank, if that makes sense. I can then conjure it up in my mind’s eye, like it’s really there. My necklace is the key. If I’m wearing it, I can send the necklace and my costume through the tunnel. Like what happened in the cylinder at the warehouse, except I can control it. It’s kind of funny, in a way.”

“How is it funny?”

“When I was in that cylinder in the warehouse, having my powers ripped from me, it was awful. I wanted to stop it, more than anything. But the process let me see how it all worked. That opened the door to figuring it out. Don’t ask me to explain how I do it, because I can’t. I just know how, if that makes sense.”

Stanley nodded slowly, with his brow wrinkled, but said nothing.

“There’s more. Just like I called my necklace and costume back when I was in the cylinder, I can do that, too. I could do it right now, if I wanted, since I’ve already sent the necklace and costume there. I could call them back onto my body, right now. These clothes would go there.”

Stanley nodded slowly as he watched her.

“Isn’t the whole thing a bit risky?” he asked. “You could lose the necklace, if you wouldn’t be able to call it back.”

Beth shook her head.

“I know, somehow, that I can call it back. Like so much of this, I can’t explain it. I just know. But the necklace is the key to making it work.”

“This sounds like… “

“Like one of John’s comic books,” Beth said. This time, when discussing John’s hobby, she wasn’t cringing. She was smiling.

“I’m glad to see the idea doesn’t bother you, like it did before.”

“Figuring out the tunnel has helped, Stanley. My mind has been awhirl the last few days, mostly about whether to be Sapphire Angel. I thought about things John and Ethan said. About John wanting his death to mean something. About giving people hope, as Ethan said. And I can’t lie. As stressful and dangerous and crazy as it as is… I like it. The power. Making a difference. They helped. But…”

“But?” Stanley said as her voice trailed off.

“Those reasons weren’t enough. Not enough to overcome the bad memories of what happened to John. But when I figured out the tunnel, that sealed it. It seemed like I was meant to be Sapphire Angel. Like I’d be fighting fate if I quit now. So, I’ll be wearing the costume again. Eventually.”

Stanley nodded and cocked an eyebrow. “Eventually?”

“I still have six months of school left. And I need that training you mentioned. Plus, I need to figure out how Sapphire Angel will help. I can’t simply drive around town and hunt down criminals, can I? I can’t imagine I’ll ever be in the middle of something like events of the past week again.”

“You never know,” Stanley replied, and seemed about to say more. But he remained quiet. She watched him for a moment, trying to read his expression, before continuing.

“I can come back a couple of weekends a month, if the offer is still on the table for you to have someone train me.”

Stanley leaned in, fixing her with a gaze so intense she nearly backed away. Beth had never seen him like this.

“Beth, the offer is there. Absolutely. But you must be absolutely certain you want this. Life will never be the same. Or safe. You’ll be getting it from all sides — from criminals, and even from those in law enforcement who will view you as a threat or a vigilante. You have to be 100% committed to this, both for your sake, and for the sake of your loved ones. I’ll lose sleep worrying about you, but you’re the one who will live it.”

“I’m sure, Stanley,” she answered.

The words sounded strange coming out of her mouth. A week ago, the idea of being a hero mortified her, and now she had even more unanswered questions. She had thought Dominick‘s experiment had taken her thoughts and turned them into reality. Perhaps that was true, but thinking back to the words of Danielle Gruden, she was no longer certain.

“I won’t stop you,” Stanley said, interrupting her thoughts. “As a matter of fact, I’ll do everything in my power to help you. But I want you to be sure.”

“I said I’m sure, Stanley,“ she replied, surprised by the annoyance in her voice. Thoughts of her future had so consumed her thoughts the last few days, that it bothered her to have someone question her decision. When she looked at Stanley, though, her face softened.

“Sorry,” she murmured.

“Training it is, then,” he said. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Beth shook her head. “I won’t put more stress in your life. After the training, I can do this on my own.”

Stanley shook his head so hard she feared he would dislodge it from his neck. “Absolutely not. You talked about this being your fate, but I feel like this is my fate, too. I will help. End of debate.”

Beth frowned, but saw an intensity in Stanley’s eyes that could start a fire.

“Okay,” she said. “No more field work for you, though. I’ll be thankful for your expertise.”

“You‘re right. I’d slow you down in the field. But I’m giving you more than my expertise. Money, too. I can help make sure I properly equip you to take on this responsibility.”

“Stanley—” she interjected, but he held up a hand.

“Hear me out. The Fizzure board of directors has regained control of the company. Lawyers are already circling. The families of the victims will be compensated, either through settlements, lawsuits, or, if the company goes under, through the bankruptcy process. It’s a wealthy company, so there will be plenty of money to go around.”

Beth blinked. She hadn’t even thought of the possibility of payments to the victims’ families. It made sense. But she couldn‘t take the money.

“That money should be for you and Mrs. Devor,” Beth protested.

“Nonsense,” Stanley said. “It’s more money than Mrs. Devor and I will ever need. We will give some to some worthwhile causes in John’s name, but nothing would make us feel better than to make your life less dangerous. Please don’t say no, Beth. You lost John, too. We’ve been talking about fate, and I think this money was meant to help you. To help Sapphire Angel.”

Beth shook her head.

“That’s for you and Mrs. Devor,” she repeated. “I could never accept it.”

Stanley sighed.

“I’ll let it go for now, Beth. But I won‘t let you tangle with people like Dominick and his goons without giving you every advantage I can.”

“Let’s table the issue, Stanley.”

“Agreed. But I will revisit this someday.”

Beth sighed and smiled as she shook her head.

“What’s next for you, Stanley?”

“I’m making sure all loose ends are tied up. I’ve already reached out to my contact with the State Police. They’re digging into Fizzure, of course. There will be arrests, but the explosion killed the people who really knew what was going on.”

“And the ones who knew I’m Sapphire Angel. And who knew the cylinder could take away my powers.”

“Yes, that too.”

“It’s good that my secret isn’t out in the open, but I still feel horrible about it. If I hadn’t tied them up, maybe they’d be alive.”

“Beth, don’t blame yourself for this. There’s one person, and one person only, who is responsible for it. And that’s the man who set those explosives.”

“The man with the silver eyes,” she said. “And he’s vanished.”

“Yes, he has. Someone like that doesn’t disappear forever, though.”

“He needs to be behind bars.”

“Maybe Sapphire Angel will see to that someday, Beth.”

Beth nodded. She knew, deep down, she hadn’t seen the last of him.

Majid Azari climbed from the bed, slipping on his pants as he looked down at the sleeping woman. A thin chain ran from a collar around her throat to the headboard. She was beautiful, with long limbs and the slender figure he liked. A famous model, her stardom had attracted him the most. That stature had given her an air of mystery and was the reason he had authorized such an exorbitant bid for her purchase at the auction.

He tore his eyes from her and finished dressing. After straightening his hair in a mirror on the door, he moved to his office in the next room, and greeted the silver-eyed man sitting on the sofa.

“Your plans in Pennsylvania didn’t go so well, did they?” Azari asked.

“It was a temporary setback,” the man with silver eyes replied, his voice unwavering.

Azari snickered. “But you left no trace of my involvement?”

“I left no trace of your involvement, or my involvement. Dominick had cleaned out the downtown facility, and as you know, I destroyed the warehouse facility. The only other piece of evidence was the sample I had given to Dominick, which he was using to aid his daughter. I retrieved that from a safe in her room before coming here. She saw me but is now dead.”

Azari nodded. He didn’t know whether the man had killed Dominick’s daughter, or if she had died from natural causes. He was sure the authorities in Pennsylvania wouldn’t know either.

“Very well,” Azari said. “I have many irons in the fire. And many fires simmering in the United States. This single failure is of little consequence, amid all my other plans. But our business with one another if finished.”

“I still have need of you, and you of me,” the robed man said.

Azari paused. He normally didn’t tolerate challenges to his authority. But this man was different.

“Why do I need you?” Azari asked.

“Because you have not heard the last of Sapphire Angel. Eventually you will cross paths with her, and when you do, you will need me.”

Sapphire Angel. A spark stirred deep inside Azari at the mention of the American heroine. He still wasn’t convinced she was real, rather than a creation of the American media. He hoped she was real, though, and as amazing as the stories described. That would make her perfect.

“Assuming she is not a fabrication of a glory-seeking American reporter, what makes you think I’ll cross paths with her? And you still haven’t answered my question. What makes you think I need your help?”

A thin smile crossed the silver-eyed man’s face, sending a chill down Azari’s spine.

“Fate will make you cross paths with the American woman. And because I have learned from Dominick’s failures, it is only a matter of time until I reach the goal we had set. When that time comes, and Sapphire Angel becomes a problem for you, I alone will be ready for her. I will have someone more powerful than she is, who will crush her.”

Fate. Coming from anyone else, the word would sound preposterous. Coming from the silver-eyed man, though, it sounded like a premonition. Azari studied him carefully, not avoiding his silver eyes. Those eyes remained dull and lifeless, but still somehow filled the room with their presence. They suggested something else. Truth, and perhaps the future.

Beth collapsed into bed. It had been a long week, and a tiring drive back to school. Tomorrow, life would return to normal, or at least as normal as it could be. The recent events had forever changed her, but tomorrow she would attend class, go the gym, work her part-time sales job at a men’s clothing store, and continue her efforts to secure a writing job after graduation.

At some point she would need to catch up with her friends. Four of her friends had made the trip to John’s funeral, but her time to talk to them had been brief. She wasn’t looking forward to rehashing the events of the last week or concealing her newfound powers.

Her return to school emphasized how much her life had changed, and how much she had changed. Before the events of the last week, she had been a happy, perhaps slightly irresponsible, college student, who wanted little more than to enjoy the last few months of school. While she had never controlled the urge to rush to the aid of those being victimized, she didn’t have much of a capacity to make a difference. Now it was different. She could help others and felt as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders.

A strange mixture of sadness and hope filled her heart. Sadness over her loss, both of John and of her carefree life, but hope over the change she could make in the world. She said a silent vow to allow the hope to win out over the sadness.

With that thought in her head, Beth reached over to the nightstand and poked around amid the mess on the surface. She took a few moments but found the reading material she wanted. With a smile on her face as her head sank into the pillow, she opened the glossy cover and started to read John’s comic book.

The End.

That's all, folks! Thanks for reading! Stay tuned in the coming days for an announcement about what's next in the world of Sapphire Angel. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments, or you can send me a message.