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Chapter Three: The First Hero
His real name! Not that annoying fake ass superhero name.
When he first came in to my café I knew he would be trouble. He had just got out of the Army. That was warning enough… He was cocky, arrogant, full of himself, the words all mean the same, but he about clubbed people on their heads with his self-righteous goodness. For sure no shades of grey with that man.
What I would find out later was that he was literally a hero.
But honestly, what is a hero? Nobody is born a hero. They are made that way.
Sometimes, it is just the choices they make that taking one event that could destroy them and turning it into a fuel for their righteousness. For their desire to save everyone. Generally, because they couldn’t save the one that meant the most to them.
That is all it takes. One event. Good or Evil. That is all it will ever take is one event to decide what side of the war you are on. Good, Evil, and those poor idiots that are in the middle, like me.
Rather the event takes seconds, days, weeks, months, or years, a hero will become a beacon of all that is good, that people forget they are human.
But sometimes…Just sometimes, it can take one person to remind them they are human. And save their soul before the pressure of being perfect gets to them.
Sometimes the villain doesn’t need to be saved; but a hero always needs to be saved.
And maybe it takes a villain to do the saving…
Especially a jealous villain.
The first meet was something else. He walked in and seemed to zero in on my ass. Or at least that is how Daniel tells it. What I remembered was a bit similar.
I had been cleaning a table, not far from Daniel; some kids dumped their hot chocolate, when I felt a hand slap my ass. I of course dropped the rag and pivoted on my heel and punched the person. I felt the pain in my knuckle but years of fighting to survive I ignored it and waited for a blow back.
The man in question held up his hand and another on his nose that I had broken. “Sorry.” He said through his nose. “I thought you were someone else.”
I heard Daniel snort. I ignored him and raised an eyebrow to the man. “Yes, because everyone is dressed like an employee here.” I rolled my eyes.
“Just saw the tight black pants actually sweetheart.”
I rolled my eyes. “No.” I stated.
Daniel laughed. “This here is Switzerland.”
“Weird name. But whatever, I am Ryan.” He held out his hand.
I handed him a box of tissue. “Clean up. And then come place your order. This here is neutral territory. Read the rules.” I pointed to a sign and moved back behind the counter.
Ryan looked to Daniel after I left; I always made sure I could hear all going on in my place. “Is she serious? And what is her real name?” I heard him ask.
Daniel shrugged, “we call her Switzerland. Not quite sure on her real name. She is a former Marine, and she never wears anything with her name on it. She is always in black pants, and an Insomnia Café tee. As for the rules, she is dead serious about them. They are like a religion here. Learn them. Or don’t come back.” Daniel pointed to the sign again. “She enforces them.”
Ryan moved to read the sign.
They are Simple and Few
1) This is NEUTRAL TERRITORY!
a. Meaning: Sanctuary is given to ALL
b. Politics, Religion, Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, Abilities, Etc. none of that matters here. We are all beings under this roof and will be treated the same- Good, Evil, or In Between.
2) YOU BREAK IT YOU BUY, FIX, OR REPAIR IT! END OF STORY!
3) Three (3) Warnings will be given before you are banned for eternity.
*I have a Witch on retainer, don’t test me!
I DON’T CARE IF YOU ARE GOD, ANGEL, DEMON, DEVIL,
HERO, VILLAIN, COP, MOB, HUMAN, OR OTHER!
YOU WILL OBEY MY RULES OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!
~The Owner (AKA Switzerland)
The last part was added by Daniel when I first put up the sign. Because of a fight between a cop and some thug.
Ryan sat down and blinked. “Other? Are all these beings real?
Daniel sipped his tea. “Of course, we say Other here instead of Alien, some of them loathe that word.”
Ryan looked at him. “So…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Villains, Angels, Demons, all that exists?”
“Yep. You must be new to the city.” Daniel handed him a cup of coffee and took the refill of tea that I put on their table.
“I am from the country. We grow up, join the military, and go back to the farm. But I didn’t want to go back, so I moved to the city. Is it just a city thing?”
“No, but cities draw more beings as it gives off more energies. Cities tend to draw people with abilities as well, because it is easier to blend in the city. And well, Switzerland gives every sanctuary. She helps them find a place to live, to work, and to just make a life. She says she has no heart, and a black soul, but in this city she is our savior.”
“But to give sanctuary to villains, bad guys, should she be the Marine she was and destroy them, not help them?” Ryan drained the cup of coffee. I knew I would be jumping in soon.
Daniel blinked. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, she is hero material, why not play the hero, I mean, all military people are heroes, why not continue that?”
So he thought himself a hero because he was in the military. He was a good man, I admit from listening to him. White and Black. Right and Wrong.
I came over with coffee. “Because I see too much gray. And I was taught to fight for everybody. The things I did in the Marines would give you nightmares Solider. So learn the rules, respect them, or don’t come back.” I walked away.
I shouldn’t have been shocked to hear that just a couple days later the man saved a little girl from getting hit by a car. It kind of ousted his ability to take a hit by a tank and still keep going. I would learn his story when he came to me asking me about a super hero outfit, or where he could go to get one.
“Why be a hero?” I asked as I looked through my contacts.
“Why do this?” He waved his hand. It was three in the morning; cops, homeless, late shift workers, Daniel, and anybody who just didn’t want to be at home were all about the café. “You take care of them. You pretend you don’t have a heart, but…” He waved his hand around.
I chuckled. “Fine. Tit for Tat.” I poured him a coffee. “I will tell you why I did this…” I waved my hand around. “And you tell me why the hero drive?”
Ryan rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I guess it started when I was a teen.” He started his story.
Ryan was fourteen, high school. He went to the Catholic High School. It was the closest thing to private and his mama, God rest her soul, wanted him to have every advantage the rich kids did in their small farming state. He worked the farm before and after school, but he wasn’t very athletic or muscular. He was a bit of runt actually. He and his twin walked to school every day and walked home every afternoon. It was a three mile trip.
There was a group of older boys who would always yell and throw things at them. Ryan would try to protect, Charli, mostly taking the hits instead of allowing the items to hit her.
The bullying continues. It always does. He and his sister are the only people of color in the high school. They are one of the few families of color in the town. They are from a poor farming family. Majority of the kids they go to school are rich and privileged. The students get away with the bullying. Some of it becoming physical; more than once Ryan goes home with a black eye, when he fights back he is punished. So he takes the hits. Protecting Charli. Always protecting Charli.
It was coming on harvest season, and with their father sick, Ryan made the choice to skip school. He had asked that Charli called in as well, but she had an AP test that morning and she needed to go to school. Ryan walked her to school, he told her to wait until he came to pick her up. He asked her to wait. And he went back home to start the harvest.
Ryan spent the day in the field. He had lost track of time. He was startled from his work when he heard sirens. He looked at his watch and cursed. It was a quarter until four! He took off running. Praying that the sirens had nothing to do with his sister. Praying she waited for him even if he was late. He prayed to a God that he had no doubt in. Until the moment he came upon the ambulance and the police cars.
He came to a stop and saw his sister on a gurney. “CHARLI!” he yelled.
The police officer stopped him. “Son, let the EMTs do their job. She was hurt bad, son.”
Ryan looked up and saw it was Officer Williams. He always was kind to him and Charli. “Sir…” He choked back a sob. “What…Who…”
Williams rubbed the back of his neck. “The Miller and Richards boys. They attacked her, sexually assaulted her. The widow down the road heard her screaming and called the cops, but we were too late to save her the worst. They beat her up pretty badly too. Go on with your sister. We got the boys.”
Ryan closed his eyes and took a breath. He had to be strong for Charli. He moved and jumped into the ambulance and grabbed Charli’s hand. “I am so sorry baby girl. I am so, so sorry.”
Charli’s face was all bruised she looked up to see Ryan and started to cry. She curled into him.
Ryan swore he would never be too weak to protect his sister again. He stayed with her in the hospital. He took an after school job to pay for the medical care. For her mental health care. He thought with the therapist she was getting better. One day, about four months after the attack, she stated she wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to go to school.
Ryan kissed her head. “Get some sleep. I will be late after school, Coach Fox has agreed to train me.”
Charli looked up him and smiled. “I love you Ryan.” She kissed his hand. “Never forget that, promise.”
Ryan was confused. “Of course. I love you too, baby girl.”
Charli accepted another kiss to the head, and let him leave.
Ryan went through the school day. He got out of classes to meet Coach Fox and the Coach was talking to Officer Williams. “Officer? Coach?”
Williams and Fox looked at him with expressions of pure grief. “Ryan, let’s sit down son.” Williams stated.
“What is going on? Is something wrong with my dad? With Charli?” So many horrible things were going through his head.
“Son, we got a call to your house about fifteen minutes ago. Son, there is no easy way to say this… Charli is gone, son. She left you a letter.” Williams handed over the letter in an evidence bag.
‘My Dearest Brother,
This has nothing to do with you. And all to do with me and my mind. My mind was shattered. I couldn’t keep faking getting better, not even for you. I couldn’t live with the shame, pain, dirtiness , I felt from the attack. I timed it so dad would find me. I didn’t want you to find me. You have done so much trying to protect me. But you couldn’t protect me from my own demons. I want you to never blame yourself. I want you to live. I want you to be happy. I wish I could have fought harder, but the demons were stronger. I am sorry. I love you.
Your baby sister,
Ryan dropped the letter and pushed his seat back. He took deep breathes. His sister was gone. Killed herself, because he couldn’t protect her. He didn’t remember the calling of his name, he didn’t remember much but his chest getting tight, and then blackness.
“I woke up in the hospital.” Ryan shook his head as he took a sip of his coffee. “I swore never again would someone under my protection have to face demons like that. I know I can’t save everyone, but I can try. From there I trained, and pushed myself. I had a growth spurt, and then joined the Army. When an chemical accident when I was eighteen made it so I was basically unbreakable, I knew I would be able to help people one day. Become the hero.” He looked at her. “So, why this?”
“To remember, I wasn’t always so jaded.” I answered. “To honor the man who taught me to bake. To remember that there is a part of me that only a bringer of pain and death.” I answered, I laid my hand over his. “It only took a moment for you to find your calling, Ryan. Don’t let any moment after ever change you.” I topped off his coffee and squeezed his hand, and walked away.