Disclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Night and Day
Copyright © 2011
In the middle of the afternoon, the sun hit the skylight at just the perfect angle to cast a ray of golden light like something out of an evangelical painting. Melanie Winston's piano was in the far corner of the hotel's lobby, the perfect position to see the beam as it appeared and shone down onto the fountain in front of the elevators. She wore a white Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a black waistcoat that, she admitted, made her look more than a little like a waitress. The hotel's only stipulation about her dress code was to blend in as much as possible. They wanted the ambiance, but it was better if people didn't notice the pianist sitting in the lobby.
Melanie didn't mind. She couldn't afford a piano for herself, not that it would ever have fit in her apartment anyway, so the job was a way to get paid for doing something she would have done for free. She usually played jazz, favoring Thelonious Monk, Count Basie or interpreting old Ella Fitzgerald standards, depending on her mood.
Today she was playing a Cole Porter tune, eyes closed to feel the music, and didn't notice that she had an audience until she ended the song. She gave it a bit of a flourish, lifted her head, and saw the blonde woman standing beside to the raised platform where her piano was on display. She smiled and began plinking out an improvised tune. "Any requests?"
"I wouldn't even know what to ask for." Her voice was melodic, with a faint Southern accent. "You play just beautifully."
"Thank you very much. Are you staying at the hotel?"
The woman nodded and turned to look over her shoulder. A young man and his family were standing at the check-in counter. "My son is treating me to a trip for my birthday. I hardly ever get to see him anymore, so... it's nice."
Melanie played 'happy birthday,' and the woman smiled. "Grandchildren? I don't believe you."
The woman laughed. "You're very kind, but I'm afraid it's true. Monday is my fifty-ninth birthday."
"I'd hate to call you a liar before I even know your name."
"Happy birthday, Gwen. You don't look a day over thirty-five."
"Now who's the liar? I hope you don't mind me interrupting--"
Melanie shook her head. "Not at all. I welcome the interruption. My name's Melanie. I'm usually here most mornings and afternoons. Maybe we'll see each other again."
Gwen seemed to consider that for a moment before she nodded. "Maybe we will." She lifted her hand in farewell and went back to rejoin her family. Melanie played 'Georgia on My Mind' as she watched Gwen's retreat, smiling to herself as she focused on the tune. She hadn't been lying; Gwen hardly looked old enough to have a grown son, let alone grandkids as old as the ones she could see playing by the fountain.
She shook her head at her thoughts; she didn't hook up with guests at the hotel. It was just a bit too close to home and she'd had problems in the past. It was best to just let her go.
When it was time for her break, she covered the keys and bent down to flick a switch on the floor. Prerecorded music from her CD began to play through the speakers in the ceiling as she stretched both arms over her head, worked the kinks from her neck, and rose from the bench. She waved to the clerks as she stepped down off the platform.
The Magnolia Hotel was over eighty years old, built as a delusional attempt to ignore the Great Depression's hold on America. The lobby was magnificent, with gilded doors and vast glass doors that looked out onto the street. Melanie loved the way it felt, the way if you squinted or turned your head slightly to the side, you could pretend you were in some grand French palace. Of course, eight decades took its toll on a building. Melanie thought the defects only added to the hotel's charm.
At the end of the corridor, tucked away behind the elevator banks and emergency stairs, was a small bar. This early in the day, the tables and booths were empty. Management required a bartender to be on duty whenever the place was open, however, due to people coming from different time zones and operating on different schedules. Stephanie Tully was behind the bar with a paperback book as she awaited customers. She looked at Melanie over the top of her Buddy Holly glasses, smiled, and marked her place in the book before she straightened up.
"I can always tell when you go from live to Memorex."
"You just memorized the track list on the CD." She sat down and rested her elbows on the bar. "Ice tea, please."
Tully was already getting the glass. "What time do you want to start your second shift tonight?"
Melanie shrugged. "Sundown would be good. I don't think Mr. Sanders expects me to work late. Why, you have plans?"
"I might have a date." She actually blushed a little as she poured the drink, but she held up a hand to stave off any of Melanie's chirping. "Nothing dramatic. Just a blind date. I got set up by this woman in my building. Apparently her niece is perfect for me." She shrugged and leaned against the bar. "How about you? Any dating prospects on the horizon?"
"My nights are kind of spoken for."
"Yeah, but not every night. You deserve some time off. You've been working nonstop. Live a little."
Melanie shrugged. "Maybe if there was someone I was interested in then, sure, I would take a night off to get laid."
Tully rolled her eyes. "Not laid , God. A relationship."
"Well, then forget it. My second job doesn't exactly lend itself to relationships well. Remember why we broke up? The whole thing with Scythe?"
"That was a one-time thing."
"You nearly lost that arm."
Tully inadvertently reached up and massaged her right shoulder. "Be that as it may, I'm worried about you, Mel. You need someone in your life. And not me. I dumped you after that arm thing, but that doesn't mean I think you should be alone forever."
Melanie smiled and took her glass as she rose from the stool. "Yeah, you don't have to remind me. Thanks for the tea, Tully."
"I'll see you before you leave tonight."
Melanie waved over her shoulder as she walked out of the bar. She took a sip of the tea as she walked back to the lobby. No rest for the wicked. So I guess I have to stay up all night, too. She sighed and took her place behind the piano again, turned off the prerecorded music, and began to play the first song that came to mind.
After her day job ended, Melanie went up to the room hotel management let her have for a pittance. She changed out of her clothes and changed into sweatpants and a sports bra. She kept her home uncluttered so she could do her exercises there, going through a series of stretches before she started her actual calisthenics. When she was finished, she stripped again and took a long shower to wash away the sweat. The shower was like a rebirth, enabling her to move from one state of mind to the other.
She kept her face tilted under the spray and let it wash over her skin, washing away the music and her thoughts. She finally stepped out of the stall and wrapped a towel around herself as she walked back into the bedroom.
A carpenter friend had turned the hotel room's bed into a Murphy bed, and she was able to lift it easily by touching the bottom edge. It rose to the wall and revealed the hidden wardrobe attached to the bottom of the bed. She undid the locks and withdrew the paper-thin red Kevlar suit that she wore for her night job.
When she first chose her disguise, it was nearly impossible to find one that wouldn't make her feel ridiculous. Everything she considered had looked like some comic book reject, not something a normal human being would ever wear. It was Tully who made the breakthrough. She threw out all the comic book designs and placed a military tech magazine on Melanie's desk. After that the ideas seemed to come easily.
Her uniform was skin tight, except for the padding at her shoulders, elbows and knees. The collar extended up to just under her jaw, and she had to work her neck back and forth to loosen the material so she could breathe. She took her helmet from the wardrobe and pushed the bed back into place. The helmet was fairly straightforward, with a pair of goggles for her eyes and a small arched opening that exposed her lips and nose. Tully had done some magic on the interior of the helmet so that it felt snug and comfortable when she wore it. There was a small earpiece built-in next to her right ear, and a microphone was hidden in the opening by her mouth. She tapped the activator near the base of the mask.
"You there, Tully?"
"Five by five. You sure you don't want me to cancel the date? I could call and tell her something came up."
Melanie went to the balcony, closing the doors behind her before she went to the railing. "Are you kidding? It's bad enough I can't have a social life. You go, have fun. Make sure you tell me all the details in the morning."
She jumped, rising a bit higher than a normal human could have achieved, and balanced on the railing of her balcony for a moment. To her right, she could see the moonlight reflecting off the harbor. There were ships coming in to port, a few sailboats lit up like a parade bobbing on the waves. To her left was the city, alternating between darkness and light. It was the darkness she was interested in. She took a deep breath, waited for the wind to be right, and leapt.
Aurora was on duty once more.
When she first started putting on the costume and going out into the city, she wanted to be called Serenade. But she refused to give interviews to the press, and she didn't feel it appropriate to leave messages with the criminals she left for the police. So she was at the mercy of the press, who decided to dub her Aurora after the goddess of the dawn. She supposed it could have been worse. A couple of TV news people tried to name her the Night Vigilante.
Melanie was amused by how much the news got wrong. She couldn't fly, and she wasn't bulletproof. She was simply able to make herself nearly weightless and drift on the breezes. Tully suspected that Melanie somehow controlled the wind, making a gust appear whenever she needed it. Melanie knew that she got lucky a lot, but she wasn't sure she subscribed to the idea that she could create the wind like that. The power wasn't an exact science, but she had enough tricks to make it look like she was flying when she was really just jumping farther and longer than any human could.
The bulletproof thing was a combination of her uniform - which had been developed by Tully's father before his death - and the fact that her body healed quickly after injury. Even with the Kevlar, being shot left a huge bruise on her skin. Once her rib had been broken. But the injuries were usually completely gone in under a day.
She alighted on the edge of a roof near the center of town. When Tully was available, she monitored police band radio for calls that might need a super-powered hand. She was flying blind - as it were - without that assistance. But she could patrol, and keep her eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary. The wind picked up and Melanie stepped off the edge of the building.
She still didn't quite understand her powers. They had been inflicted on her, a freak side effect to the weapon of the first supervillain she'd ever fought. She and Tully had been leaving a movie on their first date when the police chased a failed bank robber onto their street. He called himself the Evolver- which was just unfair; supervillains didn't mind shouting at the top of their lungs, so they got to name themselves - because a tank of experimental serum he carried in a tank on his back. He used twin jets on either wrist to shoot it, and Melanie and Tully had watched as police cars rusted and fell apart in front of them.
One of the cops got off a lucky shot and shattered the tank. The Evolver was soaked with his own weapon, and some of the spray spilled toward Melanie and Tully. Since Melanie covered Tully's body with her own, she got sprayed by the dispersal. She was sick for a few days, too weak to even go to the hospital. Then, on the third day, she woke with renewed energy. It was another week before she cut herself slicing a bagel and watched as the skin knitted itself in seconds.
Her first flight was a complete accident. She stepped outside, distracted, and nearly got blown three blocks by a sudden gust.
With Tully's help, she figured out how to manage her abilities. Her favorite power was how much better she'd gotten at piano. Tully theorized it was something to do with improved cognitive functions, but Melanie didn't care about the specifics. All she cared about was being able to play any music she wanted. If she heard a tune once, she could duplicate it. It was worth dealing with all the other frustrations for that power alone.
She heard sirens from a few blocks away and waited for a gust of wind to take her in the appropriate direction. Tully had once suggested a cape to help with directionality issues, but Melanie refused. She'd seen The Incredibles , and she wasn't about to take that risk. She floated on the breeze, idly thinking that she was lucky she hadn't been saddled with a moniker like the Moth or the Red Hornet.
Melanie followed the sound until she reached a tall apartment building. She landed on the fire escape and walked up to the roof to get a birds-eye view of the situation. Two police cars were parked at forty-five degree angles in front of the building, lights flashing blue and red across the neighborhood. Only one cop was visible, speaking into a shoulder radio as she scanned up and down the street.
Melanie jumped and drifted to the ground, her left leg bent and her right leg extended for a softer landing. She hit the pavement with a soft tap, and the cop spun around with her gun drawn. Melanie recognized her. "Officer Cruz. What's the situation?"
"Kidnapping. Bastard took his ten year old daughter from her mom. He's asking for five grand to let her go unharmed."
Melanie sneered. She wasn't sure what was worse, that he'd done it or that the price tag for his own little girl was so low. She looked up at the building. "What makes you think he's in there?"
"Got a tip from the landlord. Said he recognized the guy on the news, and saw him come in earlier with a bundle of what he thought was dirty clothes. According to my partner, he's holed up in his apartment and refusing to come out."
"You need a hand?"
Cruz turned and looked up at the building. She considered the question and then finally nodded. "If you could keep things from escalating, then yeah. I think it would be a big help." She pointed at one of the windows. "He's in the third floor corner apartment. Little girl is in there with him, so please, please be careful."
Melanie smiled. "I'm always careful." She stepped back and leapt, thankful that a light breeze had been caught between the buildings. She used it to leapfrog up to the third floor, her fingers and toes digging into the brick apron of the window as she peered inside. One window looked into the living room, and she could see the suspect pacing behind the door. His shouting was rendered wordless by the thick storm glass, but she could tell he was on the verge of panicking.
She went up one floor, crawled around the corner, and then dropped back down. The apartment's other window was in a bedroom. A little girl in pink pajamas was curled up on the bed clutching a teddy bear. Despite the late hour, she was wide awake and trembling. Melanie tapped on the glass with one fingertip, and the girl lifted her head. Her eyes widened even further, making her look like a Precious Moments figurine.
Melanie motioned her over and the girl looked toward the bedroom door. She hesitated, uncertain about this strange masked creature. Finally she decided a stranger in a mask was preferable to the man she knew outside. Melanie wondered how many shouting matches the girl had heard in her lifetime. The girl hurried across the room on pudgy legs and struggled to push the window up.
Melanie smiled. "Hi, there. Do you know who I am?"
"That's right. I came by to see if you wanted to fly with me. Just until your daddy calms down a little."
The girl's eyes became wet with tears and she nodded eagerly. She stuck her arms out and Melanie leaned into the window to scoop her up. Just as she got the girl into her arms, the bedroom door burst open and the father barged in. He looked at the empty bed before he spotted Melanie in the corner of his eye. His confused expression turned to anger as he shouted, "Abby!"
Melanie whispered, "Hold on tight," and threw her weight backward. She somersaulted as Abby clung to her neck for dear life, Melanie's heart drumming as an air current pushed her like a leaf. The two of them tumbled, and Melanie only had tentative control of herself as she fell. She straightened her legs, arched her back, and swooped down the street to regain her bearings. Abby's grip loosened. "No, no. Keep holding on."
Melanie smiled. "Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Here we go..."
She returned to the police cars, where Officer Cruz was reporting what had happened into her radio. Upstairs through the open window, Melanie heard the other cops breaking down the door. She looked up in time to see the father crawling over the window sill.
"Oh, damn," Cruz whispered.
Melanie wasn't about to let Abby see her father die. She launched herself, struggling with a weaker wind than she would have liked, and grabbed the man just as he jumped. The trajectory of her flight carried them an extra block with the man fighting her the entire way. He punched and kicked at her until she landed them safely on the corner.
Once he was free, the man slugged her. He was lucky to catch her chin instead of the side of her helmet, and Melanie reeled backward. His second punch caught her square in the mouth and she felt the warm sting of a split lip. She growled and swept his legs out from under him. He fell hard and Melanie knelt on his chest.
"I just saved your life, you dumb shit."
"No one asked you to."
Officer Cruz arrived, gun drawn. "Roll onto your stomach! Right now!"
Melanie climbed off the man, and he belligerently did as he was asked. Cruz fastened her cuffs around his wrists and turned to look at Melanie.
"Yeah, I'll be fine." She touched her lip and grimaced. "I've had worse."
Officer Cruz stood up and pulled the father up with her. "Yeah, well, this could have ended a lot worse if you weren't here. I know you're not exactly friends with a lot of cops, but you'll always be one of the good guys in my book."
Melanie smiled. "Thanks. I should probably go before one of those other cops you mentioned shows up. Is Abby--"
"She's fine. Go on. We've got it under control now."
Melanie nodded and turned. A gust of wind carried her up to the neighboring rooftop, and she started running. Another breeze came up and Melanie jumped onto it like someone belly-flopping into a pool. It carried her up, up and away to the next situation that needed her assistance.
Tully woke her by tickling her feet. Melanie jerked her legs up under the covers and burrowed into the pillow with a groan. "You know that's my kryptonite. Stop it."
"You're going to be late for your shift. You want me to tell Mr. Sanders you can't make it in today?"
Melanie groaned and sat up. Before bed she'd managed to get out of her costume and into an oversized T-shirt. Tully was in her uniform for the bar, a dark blue blouse, black slacks and a white apron. Seeing her so early in the day, in her bedroom, brought back memories of their courtship. She felt suddenly lonely.
"No, I'll get up. What time is it?"
"Nine. What time did you get in last night?"
Melanie rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. "I don't know. Three?"
Tully sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. "And it looks like it was a rough one." She touched the bruise on Melanie's chin, letting her thumb linger over the split in her lip. After the kidnapper, she had stopped a mugging and two car jackings. Some of the punks had some fight in them. "You okay?"
"Yeah. No supervillains this time, just regular assholes. I will be after my shower." She took Tully's hand and kissed the palm. "Thanks for worrying. But hey. How was your date last night?"
Tully groaned. "Don't ask. She made me feel so old."
"You're barely thirty."
"And she was barely out of high school."
Melanie winced. "Ouch. Sorry."
Tully shrugged. "The lady who set us up must think I look younger than I am, so that's a plus. It'll be fine." She stood up and looked down at the bed. "You need any help getting to the shower?"
"Nope. My muscles are healed, it's my skin that needs some time to catch up."
"Okay. See you later, Mel."
She watched Tully until she opened the hotel room door. "Hey, Tully." She turned. "Thanks for checking up on me."
Tully winked. "Any time, hero."
Once Tully was gone, Melanie slipped out of bed and went to the bathroom. She checked her body in the mirror for any marks or bruises she hadn't remembered earlier. Her body was clear, so she stepped into the shower and began preparing for her mundane life again.
Melanie played a lively version of 'Fly Me to the Moon,' moving with the music as she played. She caught movement out of her periphery and turned to see Tully approaching. They smiled to each other, and Tully stepped up onto the platform and leaned on the curve of the piano. Melanie added a flourish to her music and Tully began to sway with her. Melanie couldn't underestimate just how integral Tully had been to her success as Aurora. Without her father's research and design lab, and Tully's assistance during training, she probably would never have even tried exploring what her powers could do.
Of course, if she had known how much danger Tully would get into just for helping her, she never would have agreed to the whole sidekick thing. A few months back, the supervillain Scythe had managed to follow the radio signal in Aurora's helmet back to its source. His henchmen kidnapped Tully and Scythe used her as leverage to make Aurora commit crimes for him. Melanie had been out of her mind with rage and fear. The ensuing fight had pushed even Melanie's ability to heal, and she'd gone right up to the line of killing the madman. In the end, Tully was rescued with severe damage to her right arm. Melanie stayed with her at the hospital until she was out of surgery and received the news she would make a full recovery.
That was the end of their physical relationship. Tully had been the one to suggest they "take a break," but Melanie was grateful to have the out. Unfortunately, time had proven breaking up didn't mean her feelings automatically went away. If Scythe took Tully again, there wouldn't be a thing in the world that could stand in Melanie's way to save her.
"Any requests?" she asked as she neared the end of the song.
Tully thought for a moment and then said, "I'll like whatever you play. Just make it something fast."
"Fast, huh? I can do fast."
As she played, and Tully swayed to the music, Melanie couldn't help but smile. They might not currently be together, but so what? She was a woman who routinely stepped off buildings into thin air. She was a real life superhero. She looked at Tully and saw more than friendship in her eyes, more than just a sidekick. They could find a way to deal with the danger. They could make it work.
Anything was possible.