Part Six of a Series
The First Adventure
All characters are mine and mine alone. If they look like anybody you know or think you know, it ' s sheer coincidence. This story does contain some violence, foul language, and sexual content. If you don ' t like any of these, please try your call again.
Synopsis: A year has passed since Brice was dropped into a vat of toxic waste and life has gotten harder for our favorite bus driver. She has shown no sign of mutation, which was her only hope of gaining a superpower, supervillains are chasing her constantly, and Judy Watson wants her children to move out of Brice ' s home.
Thanks to Rosa for editing.
Questions? Comments? Rude remarks? firstname.lastname@example.org
Brice sat on the edge of her bed, her head hung. She stared at the blue carpet of her bedside rug without really seeing it.
The house had never felt emptier and neither had she. Part of her kept wishing her pets would come running into the room, but she knew they wouldn't. They were gone, just like Greer and John.
Brice didn't know why she had stayed the extra hours in the empty house. She spent most of it out on the porch, watching the sun set on the mountains. It had set as smoothly as the tears that slipped down her cheeks.
She brokenly exhaled as she picked up her cell phone. It brightly lit up to show her it was 9:08PM and she scrolled through her contacts. Finding the one she wanted, she hit send. As it rang, she took a deep breath. She didn't want to sound as upset as she felt.
“What's happening? What's wrong?” Noel rapidly asked.
Brice got straight to the point, “Noel, I'm ready to go with your idea. Come pick me up.”
Noel started to say something but Brice interjected, “Just come get me, Noel. The more I talk about it, the less I want to do it.”
Brice hung up the phone and collapsed back against her bed. Grabbing a pillow, she hugged it close. She knew it would be a long time before she slept on it again, if ever.
She tried valiantly not to cry, but a sob escaped. The past thirty-six hours had been the worst of her life.
36 hours prior
Most people would be happy and relieved after receiving good news at the doctor's office and part of Brice was undeniable relieved. However, the majority of her was upset.
It had been over 18 months since Brice's involuntary bath in a vat of toxic waste. Thanks to anti-radiation medicine she couldn't recall anything of the week she had spent in a coma and a few days after she had awoken. She didn't think she would naturally remember anything from being in a coma anyway, but it was the principle of the matter. The drug had robbed her of her memory and now had robbed her of her one chance to become a superhero.
Brice was a baron, a derogatory term for someone who should have superpowers but was barren. She came from two of the longest lines of superheroes and she didn't have a single mutation to show for it. Though she knew her thinking had been perverse, she desperately wished to be mutated enough to finally show some powers.
However, the doctors only came with good news. After waiting over a year, the doctors were happy to report that the drugs had worked and her mutation level was minimal. Brice knew her family would be thrilled, but she was crushed. It was like she was twelve all over again, praying every night that she would fall into some nuclear waste or be bitten by a radioactive animal so she would show some powers.
With her heart heavy, she drove her bus back to her home. Brice could have taken her SUV, but she had wanted the comfort of the yellow school bus. Her job was one of the few things she could take pride in. She loved being a bus driver for the International High School for Gifted Students. It was the high school of all students who had superpowers, where they went to take lessons and learn how to use their powers. Some of them would go on to be superheroes, others would become sidekicks, and the rest would be integrated as needed members of the society that kept the super powered community together.
While Brice didn't consider herself to be extraordinary, she knew she filled a needed position for the school. As one of seven bus drivers, she was responsible for transporting students to and from their home. She was one of seven who were trusted enough to protect the future of the superhero community. Her job was her livelihood.
Within twenty minutes, Brice had traveled from the west coast of the United States to the east coast, where her home lay at the top of one of the Tennessee Mountains. With ease, she landed her bus outside of her home beside the SUV her parents had given her for her birthday a few months before her toxic bath. She liked her vehicle; it was easier to find parking when one didn't have a big yellow bus.
Her mood briefly lifted when she saw Greer's motorcycle parked near her car. She wondered why Greer was home. She was certain the blonde-haired woman had class.
Greer Watson and her younger brother, John, were Brice's housemates. They had been ever since their mother was checked into a mental institution after being unstable for several years after their father had died. Greer had missed a year of school to take care of her mother and brother, causing her to be 19 when she graduated.
Now Greer attended Kingsley University of Ohio, a well-known college that was very helpful with students who had ‘special' needs. Greer often had to miss class because she had a mentorship with Majesta, one of the strongest superheroes in the world. Known to the world as Majesta, others knew her as Marge or as Brice liked to call her, ‘Ma'.
Superhero mentorships were almost every high school graduate's dream. Most graduates who were deemed capable of being superheroes received an intense basic training from various superhero teachers before having to pass an accreditation test. Those mentored with superheroes got out into the field sooner and received more hands on training. They also became famous faster.
Everyone in the world knew Majesta's new apprentice. The media loved the new masked superhero called Cobalt Thrust. Brice knew one of the reasons Cobalt Thrust was very popular was because Greer was blonde, blue-eyed, and filled out her superhero suit nicely. Very nicely. Poster sales of Cobalt Thrust were selling rapidly.
Brice tried not to let her mind linger on thoughts of Greer and her well-fitted supersuit. It wasn't easy. Ever since the incident, she had been troubled with fantasies of kissing Greer. They didn't come often and they were usually the same fantasies on repeat. Brice didn't even like to call them fantasies. They felt more like memories which couldn't be possible since she had never kissed Greer in her life. She finally accepted they had to be part of something she dreamed, though that didn't make her feel any better. Greer was nine years younger than herself and dating her brother, Michael.
Michael had graduated with Greer and had the ability to fly. He was also attending Kingsley University, though he was more interested in making his superhero job full time. He was currently in a mentorship with Falcon, a famous flyer.
Brice didn't approve of their relationship. She often fought the instinct to snap at her brother whenever he came over and did couple stuff with Greer. She didn't like that she felt such things.
Before being in a coma, Brice had started to accept that whatever was going on between herself and Greer had to stop. She was going to treat the woman like a friend and nothing else. However, after her coma, her feelings for Greer seemed to have intensified. Maybe it was because Virus had kidnapped Greer to get to her. Maybe it was because she had been seconds away from jumping into the vat to save Greer's life before she later got tossed in. Or maybe it was because when she had woken up, Greer's face had been the first thing she saw.
As soon as Brice put her keys in the door, she could hear the sound of claws running towards her. She smiled as she knew Monty, her black Labrador, and Grail, John's Husky, were racing.
She opened the door and said in an overly-perky voice that she couldn't stop if she tried, “How are my babies? Were you good today?”
Brice rubbed each dog's ears. Grail had grown a lot over the past year and was as big as the black lab.
As Brice placed her keys on the key ring above the hall table, she paused to pet Python, who was sitting on the table. She had been unable to deny the white cat had put on a few pounds the past year. She wouldn't say he was obese, but he definitely was large.
“They're not babies,” A voice called from the kitchen.
Brice chuckled as she made her way there. It was an old argument between Greer and herself. She knew very well her pets were past the adolescent stage, but they would always be her babies.
“What are you doing home?” Brice asked, leaning back against the counter and crossing her arms, “I thought you had class.”
“I do. It was cancelled,” Greer replied. The blonde haired woman was sitting at the breakfast table with her laptop in front of her. The college student reached up to brush her hair away from her eyes, but it fell back into place. She had recently cut her hair just below her ears and wasn't used to having it so short.
“So I saw Cobalt Thrust on the cover of Teen Superhero while I was waiting in the doctor‘s office,” Brice remarked.
Greer shrugged, trying to be nonchalant, “There was a group of us on the front cover. No big deal. Cobalt Thrust is no big deal yet.”
The brunette shook her head. She knew Cobalt Thrust was a big deal, but was glad Greer had modesty.
Brice remembered the evening they had picked out Greer's superhero name. She, John, and Greer had camped out in the living room with a computer, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.
“Dibs on Bronze Sýn,” John said before they even started looking, “It's going to be my name as soon as I graduate.”
Greer nodded, “Copy that.”
Brice tilted her head, “Why sin?”
Greer answered for her brother, “Not ‘sin' like you need to repent yours sins, but sýn with a y. It's Scandinavian for vision.”
“You're Scandinavian?” Brice asked, feigning more surprise than she felt, “But you're from Alabama.”
Greer rolled her eyes, “Dad's parents were from Sweden.”
“Learn something new every day. How about Bronze Sage?” Brice asked, a sly look on her face.
Greer never looked up from the dictionary she was browsing, “That was a bad pun and I refuse to acknowledge it or you.”
Two hours later, Greer looked up, “How about Cobalt Thrust?”
John stated it was awesome and Greer looked at Brice. The bus driver gave her nod of approval and Greer broke into a large smile.
“Cobalt Thrust it is.”
Brice shook that memory from her head and looked at Greer, who now seemed anxious.
“So,” The blonde woman hesitated, “What did the doctor say?”
“The medicine seems to have worked. The radiation levels are minimal.”
Greer broke out into a large smile, “That's great, Brice.”
Even though Brice wasn't happy about the news, her dark mood lifted at Greer's smile.
“You know you become twice as beautiful when you smile,” Brice softly remarked with a soft smile of her own. She hadn't meant to say that out loud.
Brice felt herself pale and then flush. She quickly turned away from the blonde. However, she didn't turn fast enough to miss the blush on Greer's cheeks and something that flashed in the blonde's eyes.
Greer shyly replied, “Thanks.”
Brice wanted to smack herself. She couldn't believe she had said that out loud. As she repeated the line in her mind, her eyes became unfocused as another fantasy took over her mind.
It was dark but she knew it was Greer's lips on hers. Greer's hand was on her breast and she pulled Greer firmly against her. Together their hips rolled as they made out. It was like Greer knew just how to touch her, to kiss her. It left her wanting more.
“Oh god,” Brice moaned, covering her face. She couldn't believe herself. She had just fantasized about having sex with Greer. Except it didn't feel like her imagination at all. It felt like déjà vu or a memory.
“Brice?” Greer asked worriedly behind her.
Brice couldn't look at the younger woman. She was sure her face was bright red.
“I gotta…I should…yeah,” Brice tried to reply before she gave up and quickly left the kitchen to the safety of her bedroom.
In her room, the bus driver started thumping her forehead with her palm before letting it slide down to cover her face.
“What the hell was that?” She asked herself.
She pinched the bridge of her nose as she debated whether to analyze the fantasy or not. It had been a new one. It had felt like a lost memory reemerging.
“How can it be a flashback if it never happened?”
Lost in thought for a long time, the doorbell awoke her from her daze. She went to her bedroom door and cracked it open. She listened to see if Greer would go check it and when she heard the footsteps coming from the kitchen, she waited to hear who it was.
Brice quickly closed her door before she could hear Greer's reply to Michael's greeting. She also didn't want to see them kiss hello.
She whirled around to glare at her bed. She did not want her brother in her house kissing her…her…
Brice shook her head. She had to stop thinking like that. So what if it made her skin crawl when she saw Michael and Greer together? They were grown people who could date whoever they liked. She just wished they didn't want to date each other.
It didn't help that she thought Michael was far better looking than herself. He was simply gorgeous with black hair he inherited from their mother and sea-green eyes from their father. There was something about superhero DNA that made them look stunning, while as a baron, Brice considered herself average.
Brice hung up her uniform and slipped into bed. She had to take naps during the day since she didn't have normal hours. She considered turning on the TV, but decided against it. The bus driver stretched out in the bed, curling her toes, and then rolled over to curl around her pillow. Her body was tired so she hoped sleep would follow.
Brice tossed and turned for over two hours, unable to shut her mind off. She tried breathing exercises, counting, and forcing her mind blank. Nothing worked. She briefly considered masturbating to get the rush of endorphins with the sleepy after-feeling, but dismissed the idea just as quickly. She was in no mood. She also didn't want to take sleeping pills.
“Screw it,” She grumbled. She leaned over to pick her laptop off the floor beside her bed and sit up. If she couldn't sleep, she might as well browse the internet.
After searching several minutes, Brice felt her day was looking up when she found a story she hadn't read before. It soon drew her into its plot. Seven parts later, she eagerly looked for the link to part eight at the bottom. Her heart fell when she saw there was no link, only a ‘To be continued…'.
Brice was not pleased. She quickly searched around, hoping to find the ending somewhere. She went back to the main page to discover the story hadn't been updated in over a year.
“Well, fuck me.”
The bus driver shut the laptop feeling even grumpier than she had been before. This was turning into a very bad day with great/not so great news from the doctor, unwanted fantasies, Michael dropping by, no nap, and now a good story that was unfinished and would probably never be completed.
Brice could almost hear the little psychiatrist in her head telling her to focus on the good things in her life, the blessings. But she ignored the voice.
She lay on the bed for several minutes after giving her clock a nasty glare. In a few hours, she had to go to work and it was an understatement to say she was feeling cranky.
She finally got up from the bed and went to shower. Afterwards, she went into the kitchen where Grail, Monty and Python were eating their automatically dispensed food.
The bus driver went into the food pantry to see if there was anything she wanted to eat. She let her eyes stare down every shelf, but there was nothing she wanted. She finally settled on a bowl of cereal and grabbed the box of Cheerios.
Brice filled the bowl full and snagged a spoon before going to open the fridge to get the milk. Her eyes roamed up and down, not finding what she wanted.
“Son of a bitch,” She snapped, slamming the door closed.
“Lady and gentlemen, “She said to the animals, “This is obviously a bad day. There is nothing worse than having to put cereal back into the box.”
After picking up her Eastern hemisphere students and dropping them home, she flew her bus towards New Jersey. She had to put on a fake smile and go tell her parents what the doctor said.
As she was about to land, Brice received a text. Her brows came together in confusion, not recognizing the number.
Brice waited until she landed in her mother's backyard to read it.
It read, “This is Judy Watson. You and I need to have a talk. I will be coming to your home at 10am tomorrow.”
Brice didn't know how long she sat there with her mouth hanging open. She knew Judy Watson had recently been released from the mental institution and she knew the woman would want her children to move back in with her eventually. She just hadn't expected it to be so soon.
Before Brice knew what she was doing, she was out of the bus and walking into the kitchen, where her mother sat at the table.
“Read this,” She demanded.
“What did the doctor say?” Her mother asked at the same time, taking the phone automatically.
“Everything's fine. Read it,” Brice demanded again.
Marge arched a brow at her daughter before reading the message.
“So?” Brice asked.
“So what?” Her mother counted.
“What do you think?”
“It's a text message from Greer's and John's mother,” Marge countered, not knowing what her daughter wanted.
“You know what she wants to talk about, right? She wants John and Greer to move back in with her.”
Marge moved to take her empty tea cup to the sink, “I think she just bought a house in the neighborhood. Nice place too.”
“She just got out,” Brice exclaimed, “And she already wants to play house? Don't you think she should wait a few more months before playing ‘mom' again?”
Marge shrugged, “I think she deserves a chance. She was released with doctor approval and she wants to get on with her life. To do that, she has to make things right with her children.”
“She's not ready to be their mother again,” Brice said, becoming angry, “And look how rude she is! She demands we talk and assumes I'll be home, waiting to talk at a time she picked!”
“I admit that was a little rude,” Marge agreed, “But she's their mother.”
“Whatever,” Brice growled, staring down at the message. She wanted nothing more than to erase it and not be home at ten tomorrow.
Marge stared at her daughter, “Brice, they're not your children. You have no right to them.”
“I know they're not my children,” Brice snapped. Why couldn't her mother see things her way? Judy wasn't ready to jump right back into mother mode. She had been insane for almost a decade.
“If Judy wants her children back and they want to go, you have no say in the matter,” Marge stated firmly, “And I hope it does go well between them.”
Brice felt her jaw drop, “How can you say that?”
“Brice, taking them in was a selfless act and I was proud of you. But they aren't your children and their mother is ready to take care of them again. Hell, Greer's old and mature enough to be living on her own. You need to move on with your life. You'll be lonely for a little while, but I know you'll find a nice woman to share your life with soon. And it will be easier to be in a relationship if you don't have two other people living with you.”
Brice clenched her fists, glaring at the tiled floor. Marge continued, “It's not like you'll never see them again, but you need to let them go.”
She couldn't reply without fearing what she would say. She had had arguments with her mother before, but never had she wanted to cuss her mother out. So instead of replying, she spun around on her heels and left without another word. Marge let her go. It might not have been what her daughter wanted to hear, but it was what she needed to hear.
Brice glared out into the white snow and ice field that surrounded her and the bus. She was at the North Pole, hoping the beautiful scenery would soothe her anger. It hadn't helped.
After brooding a few hours, Brice knew she had to leave. She had an hour before she started picking up her night owl students and she wanted something to eat.
Brice flew the bus into the sky and flew south down the middle of Canada. As she was flying over Montana, a soft alarm started beeping. She wasn't worried. It was just the radar alarm saying something was coming towards her. It was either a plane she had to avoid or a flock of birds. She enlarged the radar on the computer monitor next to her.
“Shit,” The bus driver exclaimed. There were three unidentifiable aircraft coming directly at her. Brice had the feeling they weren't random military planes or a flying circus. She hit a button on the dash, “Control tower, this is bus 3. I've got unidentified aircraft coming at me. If these are friends, you better tell me now. Over.”
“Bus 3, we hear you. Wait one moment while we confirm. Over.”
“I don't have a minute,” Brice whispered to herself. The aircraft were getting closer to her.
The radio clicked on again, “Bus 3, those planes are not responding. Take evasive action. Avoid engagement. Help is coming to you. Over.”
“Roger that. Over.”
It was easier said than done. Brice started flipping a few switches. The large bus steering wheel started folding up and a fighter jet's control stick started to rise from the floor. Her seatbelt was replaced with a heavy harness, force shields went up around the bus, and the radar enlarged on part of the windshield. The radar now showed locking signs on the three targets following her.
Brice fidgeted in the seat. She hadn't put her bus into fighter mode since the refresher training seminar earlier in the summer. The last time she actually had to use the fighter mode was over six years ago to avoid some terrorists.
“Let's see if I can still remember how to play this game.”
She grasped the control stick in her hands and tilted it up and to the left. The bus flew upwards while sharply turning left. Before she could straighten out of her turn, the planes started firing at her. Even though Brice knew the shields were bulletproof, it wasn't nice to be shot at.
“I'm under fire!” Brice shouted.
“Bus 3, remain calm. Get to the Atlantic as soon as you can.”
Easy for him to say, Brice thought. Protocol demanded that if a bus was under fire, the driver needed to get to the nearest ocean to avoid causalties on land. Brice pushed the throttle forward to go faster. In fighter mood, she could get to the coast in two minutes, but it was going to be a long two minutes.
The sound of breaking glass caused Brice to make a steep right turn. Whipping her head around, she saw a few of her windows were broken.
“Shit! They got shield-piercing rounds!”
“Stay calm! Deploy the cloud bombs and head towards water!”
Brice quickly deployed the cloud bombs. The bombs dropped out of her bus and two seconds later they detonated. Instantly, dark clouds started to form in a mile radius. It was like flying in a thick, dark thunderhead. The clouds also masked hot temperatures and allowed Brice a few seconds to escape.
She went as fast as her bus could go towards the Atlantic Ocean. The radio came to life, “Backup is 1 minute 39 seconds away.”
“That sounds like a hell of a long time right now,” Brice muttered. Glancing at her radar, the jets were back on her trail and catching up fast. They were going faster than they were before.
“Son of a bitch,” She exclaimed as they were suddenly beside her again. One on each side and one directly behind her. She knew if they fired, she was dead.
There was a horrible crashing noise behind her and Brice flinched, ducking down. The bus started dropping altitude. Looking behind her, she saw the rear-exit door was gone. She could see the jet behind her and into the cockpit. While she wasn't certain, it looked like Duster flying the jet.
Brice ignored the fact that she had just crossed the shoreline and was over the ocean. If Duster was flying, that meant this whole attack had been ordered by Virus. She felt her stomach clinch in fear and her face pale.
Suddenly the pilot in the jet behind her disappeared. Brice's eyes widened as she realized the pilot had been Duster and she knew what the supervillain was doing. She scrambled to get out of her harness.
“Duster's coming on the bus,” She shouted. The control tower could see everything happening on the bus from video cameras so she didn't need to tell them. She had just finished engaging autopilot when she heard a low chuckle.
“Oh little Bricey, how I've missed you. Have you missed me?”
Brice stood up and faced the rear of the bus as Duster formed in front of her from a cloud of dust. The woman was beautiful in an evil sort of way with her dusty brown hair and eyes.
“You threw me into a vat of toxic waste. I've missed you like I would miss a hangnail,” Brice snapped back.
Duster clucked her tongue, “That's no way to treat a new comrade. Virus is pleased you passed his test. We've waited a year for you and now it's time for you to join us.”
“I'm never going to join you!” Brice shouted. She wished she had a weapon, but the school had a strict no-weapons policy except in designated weapons classes. How do you stop a supervillain on a school bus? She almost fainted in relief when she realized she did have a weapon.
“You don't have a choice in the matter,” Duster laughed. A smirk settled on her face and she suddenly lunged forward.
Brice quickly backed up as much as she could and screamed, “Mischief Manage!”
Every bus was equipped with ununseptium lights in case any students decided to break into fights. The bus driver picked a password that would activate the lights. It would light up the inside of the bus a bright blue and make all individuals with highly mutated DNA weak and unable to move.
Duster must have sensed the ununseptium before it activated, because a heartbeat before the lights flickered on, Duster evaporated. Brice watched as the woman reappeared in the jet still behind the bus.
“Bus 3, your backup has arrived.”
Brice leaned heavily on one of the seats in relief, “Thank God.”
She quickly straightened and went back to her seat. It wasn't over yet. Even though it was likely Duster wanted her alive, alive didn't mean unharmed. They could still shoot up the bus.
She silently cheered as a squadron of fighter jets and flying superheroes came over the horizon. There were 14 military jets and 5 superheroes.
Brice watched in her rearview mirror as Duster dropped out of sight on her jet. Just as she was about to let out a sigh of relief, the gunfire started. Brice shouted as she covered her head. The jet on the right side of the bus fired over 500 bullets into the back of the bus, shattering all the windows, before speeding off with the other two jets.
Ten of the military jets and three of the superheroes chased after Virus's henchmen while the other four jets circled around Brice's bus. The two superheroes flew inside of Brice's shattered bus.
They were both tall men in tight, aerodynamic suits. The older man wore blue and white and a falcon was etched onto his chest. The other man wore black with streamlines of blue randomly laced along the suit. Brice knew them both. The elder was Falcon and the younger was his apprentice, Nightjet.
“Brice, are you alright?” Falcon asked once he landed, rushing towards her.
“Yes, Mr. Russell. How are you? How's Mrs. Russell?” Brice asked, “Good to see you, Michael.”
Michael nodded, his black hair fallen over his mask.
Under Falcon's direction, she headed the bus towards a nearby aircraft carrier. Once she landed on the ship, Brice let out a broken exhale. It was time to get off and see what the bus looked like from the outside.
Brice fought against tearing up as she looked at the damage. It had looked bad on the inside, but outside was worse. There were bullet holes and scorch marks every few inches. Except for the windshield and a few ones upfront, every window was shattered. Brice squatted down to look under the bus and she could see lots of sparking wires and fluid leaking. It would take weeks to repair all the damage.
Soon the ship was filled with helicopters and emergency vehicles. She had already been asked to tell what happened five times before she gratefully heard a familiar voice.
“Fuckicles, Brice! Can't you go one day without getting into trouble,” Noel accused.
Brice grinned, “I have to keep up with you.”
Noel shook her head and walked around Brice's broken bus, which was covered with evidence crews and technicians, “They sure did some work on this. What happened?”
Brice repeated her story to Noel while others took notes as she spoke. She was surprised by all the special agents who kept showing up. Noel would later tell her that Virus had been upgraded on the ‘most-wanted' list after he stole records from Noel's company. So anything Virus had his hand in would be heavily investigated.
The bus driver was finally left alone to rest on a crate as everyone talked around her. Some captain said a doctor would come check her out in a moment even though she told him she wasn't hurt.
She hung her head as she waited. Brice didn't know whether to say what just happened was the perfect ending to the perfect day or not. She hoped her day was over because she didn't think anything could top being attacked and shot at. She was wrong.
The hazel-eyed woman lifted her head to scan the crowds.
“Fuck,” Brice grumbled as she spotted someone wearing a doctor's vest coming towards her through the throngs. The beautiful Hispanic woman had several people's attention, but the woman was only focused on Brice. Brice did not want to see her ex-girlfriend, let alone talk to her.
She hopped off the crate and was about to make a run for it.
“Don't you dare,” Amelia called out. Brice let out a frustrated half growl.
“Hello, Brice,” Amelia said as she finally reached Brice. Brice gave a terse nod in reply.
“Still giving me the silent treatment? It's been over two years. Can't we talk about it civilly now?” Amelia asked as she pulled out a penlight and started shining it in her eyes.
“I don't want to talk to you.”
The doctor sighed as she stepped back to look Brice up and down. Most would have suspected her of leering at Brice when in reality she was inspecting her bones and internal organs for injuries.
“You appear to be okay,” Amelia said, making a note on a clipboard she held. Brice quickly said, “Good, I'll be on my way then.”
“Stop,” Amelia ordered. Brice shook her head. She couldn't remember her ex being this bossy before.
“Can't we have a cup of coffee sometime and talk about this? There's some stuff I need to tell you.”
“I don't want to talk about us,” Brice snapped.
Amelia stepped closer, “There are some things I need to tell you that don't relate to us. They are about you. You may hate me now, but I spent almost a year of my life in love with you. I don't want to see you get hurt.”
A questioning look crossed Brice's face, “What about me and why would I get hurt?”
“Why Brice?” Amelia exclaimed, “You have a supervillain after you. You spent a week in a coma eighteen months ago. I could barely find out how you were doing and I work there.”
“Brice, I have a lot of clearance at my hospital. I'm able to look at most people's files and I wasn't able to view yours. It was classified. Don't take this the wrong way, but a baron's file is not something worth classifying. I could pull up your mother's file, but not yours. Tell me you don't see something wrong with this picture.”
Brice was quiet for a moment, “Yes. Something is wrong with that picture.”
“So, what's going on?” Amelia asked.
“I don't know,” Brice said. She repeated it when seeing the look of disbelief on Amelia's face, “I don't know!”
Amelia sighed, “Brice…”
“Well, if it isn't Dr. Amelia ‘I'm-a-slut' Delgado,” Noel sneered as she suddenly appeared by Brice's side.
Brice didn't know whether to laugh or scold Noel. She chose to compromise and gave the barest shake of her head.
Amelia said resoundingly, “Nice to see you too, Noel. I was having a private conversation with Brice.”
“Oh, I doubt there is anything private about you. Matter of fact I can name dozens of women who know all of your details.”
“Leave Dr. Delgado alone,” Someone barked.
Everyone turned to see a woman marching up towards them. Her titian hair was in a tight bun which showed off her green eyes. She looked like a formidable agent in her black skirt and suit.
Noel didn't seem afraid, “Trudy, what are you doing here?”
Gertrude glared at the white-haired woman, “Obviously, I'm working. As you should be.”
“I am,” Noel replied easily, “I'm keeping the riffraff at bay.”
“She's just doing her job,” Gertrude defended, “And she doesn't need you on her case.”
“Well, let her go do her job,” Noel said, making a shooing motion, “I'm sure there are plenty of women who would love to get examined by her and she obviously has no morals about it. You should get a checkup from this doc, Trudy. It might loosen that stick up your ass.”
“Back the fuck off, Noel,” Gertrude growled, her green eyes flashing. Noel tilted her head back to look the woman over. She frowned and then accused, “You're already sleeping with her!”
“That's none of your concern,” Gertrude warned, raising a hand.
Noel protested, “Trudy, you're a pain in my ass but I can't let you be in a relationship with this woman. She's a habitual cheater. She's not the best person to enter into the lesbian realm with: like a librarian who dominates on the side.”
Brice could sense it was about to get bad very quickly. Gertrude looked about ready to strangle her best friend. She grabbed Noel's arm and started pulling her away, “We're just going to leave now. Thanks for the information, Amelia, but I have nothing to give you.”
Noel gave both women a glare before she allowed Brice to pull her away. She secretly wished Gertrude or Amelia would say something that would justify kicking their asses. But neither woman said anything.
“How can you be so calm in front of that cheating bitch?” Noel asked, telepathically.
“It's easy. Just have one friend who gets outraged on your behalf and everything is easier to deal with,” Brice replied fondly in her head.
Noel suddenly shrugged, “Don't get all mushy on me, Brice.”
“I couldn't ask for a better friend, Noel,” Brice stated seriously. She leaned over to kiss Noel's check and smiled as Noel wrinkled her nose.
“So what information did she give you?” Noel continued the conversation in Brice's mind.
Brice told Noel what Amelia had said and waited for Noel's comment. None came. The bus driver gave her friend a look and said, out loud, “What aren't you telling me?”
Noel looked away, “I don't know.”
“Bullshit,” Brice said, grabbing Noel's shoulders to spin her around, “Tell me! Do you know why Virus is after me?”
“Damnit, Brice, if I knew neither of us would be here,” Noel said, brushing Brice's hands off of her, “All I know is he wants you.”
Noel hesitated before adding, “And the child you carry.”
Brice's jaw dropped, “What!”
Noel shook her head, “Well, I meant for that to be a joke, but it just didn't sound right. Scratch that from the minutes.”
Brice balled her fists and glared at her best friend, “I'm going cut you into tiny pieces.”
The white-haired woman held up her hands in surrender, “I was just teasing. At least I didn't say Greer was the daddy or anything. ”
The bus driver's eyes narrowed, “I'm going to pound you into snow.”
Noel was saved by a soldier who interrupted them.
“Excuse me,” The soldier said, “Ms. Johnson, you have a message. You are to go to the School Board for a meeting in one hour.”
Brice felt the blood drain from her face. She knew it couldn't be good if the school board wanted to see her.
“They're going to fire me,” She whispered, horrified.
“You don't know that,” Noel said quickly, grabbing Brice's shoulder. She gave her a shake, “Hey, relax. They probably just want to know what happened. Don't count your unemployment checks before they come. Now calm down. I'll go in with you, okay?”
“Yeah,” Brice agreed, “Okay.”
“Nice shooting,” Virus congratulated Kitty as his trio arrived back at the lair.
Kitty purred, delighted. She would have gone to rub against him if Duster hadn't glared at her. She meowed in disappointment.
“Boss, the plan worked. Though we weren't able to capture Brice, we knew the likelihood was small to begin with. Soon she'll be more open and vulnerable.”
“What if she runs and hides?” Virus pondered.
“Then we'll go seek,” Duster assured him.
Brice gulped as she sat across a large wooden table from an old, heavy-set man in an expensive suit. He was the chairman of the school board and normally the members sat alongside on the table. She was just grateful Noel was with her. The superhero looked beautiful and dangerous beside her.
The chairman didn't believe in stretching out things longer than necessary. He got right to the point, “Brice Johnson, it is the decision of the school board that you be relieved of your duties until the matter of Virus's pursuit of you corrects itself.”
Even though she was sitting, Brice felt the floor fall out from under her. She felt like something had been ripped away from her. She was Brice, the bus driver. She softly asked, mostly repeating it to herself, “You're firing me?”
Noel's vocal reaction was on the other end of the scale. She shouted, “You're firing her? You can't fire my friend! None of this is her fault!”
The chairman raised a gray eyebrow at Noel, “We acknowledge that Brice Johnson has nothing to do with the matter and is a loyal, hardworking employee with several merits. But the fact remains she is being violently searched for. That puts the students in her care at risk. We don't want to put the students at risk, do we?”
Noel grunted before looking away in disgust.
“Don't think of this as a termination. It's merely a suspension with pay and benefits.”
“Whatever way you put it, it still sucks,” Noel snapped for Brice's benefit. Brice was still stunned by the news, unable to move. She had never been fired or suspended from any job. Her job was one of the few things in her life she could take pride in. She loved it and she didn't know if she could handle not being able to do her job.
“You understand, Ms. Johnson. Don't you?” The chairman asked.
Brice forced herself to nod. She didn't want to put her riders at risk either, but it didn't make it hurt less.
“It's best to get this over with quickly so we'd like you to hand in your badge and bus keys.”
She desperately willed her hands to stop shaking as she unclipped the badge from her shirt and tossed it on the table. She pulled her keys off of the clip. The little yellow bus keychain that John had given her last Christmas dangled from beside the keys. She tried to take it off, but found her hands weren't cooperating. Brice was grateful when Noel gently took them from her and took off the little bus.
Noel glared at the chairman while she kept the keys in the palm of her hand. The chairman shook his head as a ball of ice started to grow around the keys, “That is uncalled for.”
Noel sneered as she continued to grow a solid sphere of ice around the keys and then dropped the softball-sized ice ball to the ground. It didn't even chip as it landed. Noel took Brice's arm and pulled her out of the chair, “Suck on that and see if we don't bring up legal action against you. There was a better way to do this and you know it.”
“Just leave it, Noel,” Brice quietly stated as she walked out of the room. Noel followed her after giving the man a long look of disgust.
Noel drove Brice home. It was a deathly silent ride. Brice aimlessly picked at the fabric of her pants, still in shock over what just happened. She would occasionally open her mouth to say something, but closed it again when she couldn't form any words. She was no longer a bus driver. She had been fired because of something she couldn't control.
“Brice, I know you don't want to hear this but I need to say it anyway,” Noel said, hating what she was about to say, “No one else is going to hire you until Virus is captured. Until he's brought in, you're in danger. I don't know why, but he wants you and he won't stop.”
“I already know this,” Brice muttered.
“Yeah, I know. I'll get straight to the point. I think you should go into hiding.”
Brice turned her head to look at Noel, “You want me to do what?”
Noel returned her friend's gaze, her face serious, “I want you to go into hiding. Disappear. Brice Johnson will vanish and I'll make it so even I won't know where you are. You'll be given a new identity.”
“What?” Brice shouted, “No! That is not happening! The bastard has already taken away my job! I'm not going to let him take me away from my family, my pets, or my home!”
“Please listen,” Noel begged.
Brice quieted only because she had never heard such desperation in Noel's voice.
Noel swallowed heavily, gripping the steering wheel tighter, “Do you think I like this idea? Do you think I want you to go? Because I don't! If I place you in hiding, I won't know where you are. I won't be able to protect you. But the fact of the matter is I can't really protect you now. Virus has resources beyond mine so I can't chase him, figure out why he wants you, and protect you at the same time. I don't trust anyone enough to protect you or find him either. Well, maybe Alice but…ugg, never mind. I just feel the only way to keep you safe is to make you disappear.”
“Brice Johnson is one person in a small, superhero community. We'll make you someone in a community of six billion,” Noel firmly ended, “I believe this is the best option. I know it‘s the best option.”
“Would you do it?”
Noel's jaw tightened, “Yes.”
The white-haired superhero hit the steering wheel with her fist, “Damnit, Brice! What is…?”
“I'll think about it,” Brice shouted back, “I just can't think right now! Okay?”
Brice closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She softened her voice, “Just give me some time, Noel. It's been… a bad day.”
“Okay,” Noel replied, her voice calmer, “We're at your house.”
“Thanks for the ride.”
“I'll call you tomorrow,” Noel promised. Brice gave her a nod and closed the door. She wearily went towards the house, trying to ignore the spot where she always parked her bus. It made her heart ache.
She could hear the animals running to the door as she climbed onto the porch. Her hand hesitated on the door before opening it. She entered and muttered to Grail to move out of the way as she started closing the door.
Brice hadn't even finished closing the door when Greer was suddenly in front of her, “Are you okay?”
Brice didn't have time to answer before she was wrapped in Greer's arms, “Umm, Greer?”
“Marge called and told me what happened. She said to call her as soon as you got home because you weren't answering your cell phone. I wanted to go see you on the ship, but they said you left with Noel. Are you okay?” Greer rapidly said as she pulled back to look Brice up and down.
Normally Brice would have laughed at Greer's reaction, but her depression was too thick. She said, walking away, “They fired me.”
Greer froze, shocked by the information, before she turned to chase after Brice, who was already in the kitchen, getting the vodka from a tall cabinet. She watched as Brice poured some into a shot glass and went to the microwave.
Brice typed in five seconds and hit freeze. When she pulled the glass out of the microwave, it was frosted and the vodka was cold. She quickly shot it back and gave a tiny wince at the taste.
Greer watched as Brice drank a second glass and then a third. She knew she should say something, but she didn't know what. She knew 'it will be okay' or ‘I'm sorry' wasn't going to work.
Brice stared down into the empty glass in front of her. Her vision blurred as tears filled her eyes. She closed them and swallowed heavily. Brice didn't want to cry. Not in front of Greer.
She stiffened as she felt arms wrap around her and didn't relax when she realized it was Greer. She watched as a minute passed on the microwave clock and she slowly relaxed when she realized Greer wasn't going to let go any time soon.
“At the end of a bad day, my father would come home and all he asked for was a big hug,” Greer muttered into Brice's shoulder where she rested her head, “Never made much sense to me as a child but now it makes all the sense in the world. A hug doesn't cure your problems, but if done right it can ease the stress, worry, or pain. Shows you that you are not alone and someone cares. I don't really know what to say, Brice, but I'm here and I care.”
Brice closed her eyes and placed a hand on top of the arms that embraced her. She tried to draw comfort from the blonde woman's embrace, but Noel's words left her feeling heavy.
Virus was after her and had already kidnapped Greer once to lure Brice to him. She knew he would have no reservations about doing it again. If she disappeared, Virus would chase her. He'd probably leave Greer alone.
So Brice didn't want to know Greer was there and cared for her. If she was going to leave, she knew she couldn't do it while facing Greer. It would hurt too much.
She gently pulled away from Greer, muttering her thanks. Brice put up the bottle of vodka and turned to face Greer. She couldn't look her in the eye. She said, to Greer's feet, “I'm going to lie down. Could you call my Ma and tell her I'm alright. You can tell her…I got… that I got…you can tell her if you want. I'll call her tomorrow.”
“It's not like I'll have anything to do,” Brice muttered to herself as she left the room. She was no longer a bus driver. Someone else was picking up her night owls and taking them to school. Someone else would be taking over her entire route and she was jobless.
Brice went to her bathroom and opened up the medicine cabinet. She hated taking the blue sleep pills, but she didn't want to stay up thinking about what had happened over and over again. She spilled out eight pills into the palm of her hand and took them with a glass of water. One pill would ensure one hour of sleep.
She lay down on her bed next to Monty and Python. Most people wouldn't let their pets sleep in the bed and Brice wouldn't either if their loose fur wasn't sucked off daily or their odor wasn't neutralized by a chemical spray. However, she didn't care about that at the moment. She was just glad to have them by her side as she fell asleep.
Hours later a soft male voice said through her door, “Brice?”
Brice rubbed her face as she glanced at the clock. It was early in the morning and she knew John would be headed to catch the bus soon. The thought sobered her and she went to open the door, letting Monty and Python out.
John stood in front of the door, his book bag on his shoulder. He had grown several inches since she first met him three years ago. She imagined he was going to be tall like his sister and just as handsome.
“The bus will be here soon, John,” Brice said, though it killed her to say it. She was the one who had picked him up and taken him home every day since he started high school. It didn't feel right that someone else was driving her route.
“Yeah, I know,” John said, fiddling with one of the straps across his shoulder, “I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Oh,” Brice said, able to give him the barest smile, “Thanks.”
“I can't see,” John blurted out.
“What?” Brice asked, startled, “What's wrong?”
“Your future I mean,” John quickly clarified, “It's blurry. I was getting better at seeing premonitions, but now your future is blurring. I don't know if I'll see you again. I don't even know if you'll be here when I get home.”
Brice wanted to comfort him. She wanted to say she would be there when he got home, but she couldn't. She remembered his mother was coming to her house in a few hours and she knew what Judy Watson wanted.
“You…ah…know I care about you, right. That I love you?” Brice asked.
John nodded, “I love you too, Brice.”
“And,” Brice hesitated, “Tell your sister I love her too… in case I don't see her.”
“I will,” The boy promised.
“See you later, John.”
“See you later,” John repeated. He reached out to give Brice a hug which she returned whole heartedly. She then let him go so he would catch the bus.
Brice stayed in her room until she heard Greer leave for school. She heard the woman walk up to her door, but walk away without saying anything. Brice was relieved because she didn't know what to say to Greer.
Alone in the house, she decided to play with her pets. She spent the next few hours petting them and talking to them. Brice had the feeling it was going to be a long time before she played with them again.
Ten o'clock came too fast for Brice and Judy Watson was very punctual. Brice froze at the knock on the door, but walked towards it. She took a deep breath before opening the door.
She could then only stare in amazement. She couldn't believe the transformation from the last time she had seen the woman. Instead of looking like Greer's and John's crazed grandmother, Judy Watson looked like their young, beautiful mother though there was weariness in her eyes. She wore new clothes and a nice handbag. Glancing at the new vehicle parked beside her own, Brice decided the government took very good care of recovering superheroes.
“You know why I'm here.”
“Would you like to come in?” Brice said, ignoring Judy's statement.
Brice sighed while shaking her head, aggravated, “Well, at least now I know where Greer gets it from.”
Judy didn't look amused. She said, adjusting the strap of her purse, “Can we get to the matter at hand, please?”
Brice knew exactly why she was here, but she wasn't going to make it easy. Brice spun around and said, “I'm going to make some coffee.”
Judy blinked in surprise as Brice walked away from her, leaving the door open. She hadn't been expecting that. She reluctantly came in and shut the door behind her.
“I'm not here to play games, Ms. Johnson. I want my children back,” She called out, “Yes, I know that you think you never took them away from me, but you have. I want them back.”
Brice clenched her jaw as she took in the kitchen. She hadn't said that, but she had thought it. The former bus driver walked back into the living room where Judy was now standing.
The older woman said, “I know they're happy here, that Greer is very fond of you in particular, and you have taken good care of them…”
“They take care of themselves. I just own the roof,” Brice interrupted.
Judy's mouth twitched, “Stop this pointlessness. I'm a psychic. I know how this conversation will go and more importantly, so do you. My kids are going to live with me so just stop trying.”
“No,” Brice said, taking a step towards her, “I'm not going to stop trying. I love those two and I'm not going to just let you take them away from me. They're happy here, which is far more than what they can say about living with you.”
It was a low blow and Brice regretted it. However, she wasn't going to let them go without a fight. She knew it was pointless, but she wasn't going to give up.
Judy didn't give her a chance to fight back. She said the one thing Brice didn't want to hear, “If my children stay with you, they will likely die.”
The older woman watched as all the color drained out of Brice's face and she felt a pang of regret. She had told Brice the truth and there was no softer way to put it.
Brice stumbled back. She whispered, feeling as though someone had punched her in the stomach, “You're…you're just… saying that. To scare me. That's…not true. That can't be true.”
Except Brice knew it was true. Greer had been kidnapped before because of her. There was no stopping Virus from taking her again or taking John. Brice knew they weren't safe with her, but she had liked living in denial for a short time.
“I wouldn't lie about something like that and you know it. Being around you puts them in harm's way. Do you really want something to happen to them?”
“No,” Brice replied, softly.
Brice looked down at the floor. She asked, “Can you tell me what's going to happen so I can be prepared?”
Judy shook her head. She said, as if frustrated, “I can't see your future. I've tried. It's blurry and I can't make out images. I've tried to look at Virus's, but I can't see his either. Somehow, he's able to block his future from me. Since you're connected to him, I can't clearly see yours.”
“It's going to be dangerous,” Judy softly finished.
Brice looked over Judy's shoulder out onto the mountains but saw nothing. “You're right. You need to take them away.”
“The sooner the better,” Judy replied, seeing that Brice was now agreeable.
Brice nodded. She gathered what was left of her strength and said, turning to go back inside the house, “We'll pack up John's things and you can take them with you. Call the school and tell them to drop him off at your house instead of here.”
She started upstairs without looking back at the woman. Judy followed her. Together, in silence, they packed up John's possessions and loaded them into Judy's car.
As Judy closed the trunk, she looked Brice up and down. She asked, “How are we going to convince Greer?”
Brice would have laughed on any other occasion. She was glad Judy realized Greer was an adult and could make her own decisions.
“We've been through a lot together,” Brice stated, “But she'll go with John.”
“She's not just going to leave you like that and we both know it. She's very fond of you.”
Brice paused as Monty and Grail walked out of the open front door and onto the porch. As she focused on them, she said, “That's the second time you've said that. What are you trying to get at?”
Judy started to say something but appeared to think better of it. Instead she said, “I am grateful for you watching after my children while I was recovering. I know you care for them and that this is hard for you. It's only going to get harder since we both know that Greer is the one who's really in danger by staying around you. The moment something happens to you, she's going to go after you without any thought of her own life. She cares for you that much.”
Brice knew that. As she looked around at her beautiful home, she made a decision. She was going to take Noel's offer today. Even if she couldn't get Greer to agree to move back in with her mother, she could get the college student to leave long enough so she could disappear. It was almost worth it, knowing Greer would be safer without her. It didn't make it hurt any less though.
“Leave Greer to me,” Brice stated.
The brown-haired woman focused on the dogs in the yard, “You'll have to take Grail with you.”
Judy's lips twitched in a faint smile, “Never wanted a dog, but I'll learn to adjust.”
“Actually, I have a favor to ask. Would you take Monty and Python with you as well?” Brice asked. It was one of the hardest things she ever said and it broke her heart after she said it. She needed someone to take care of them while she was gone and figured this was the best option. If she took them to her parents' house, they would just ask questions. Noel had said to tell no one.
Judy nodded and Brice felt a rush of gratitude towards the woman, “Thank you. I'll get their things.”
Brice packed up the animals' things. Monty and Python followed her around, knowing something wasn't right. She knelt down in front of them, “I have to go away for a while and I can't take you with me. So I need you two to protect John and Greer for me while I'm gone. Can you do that for me?”
Monty gave a single bark and Python gave a purr, “You're good boys.”
A few short hours after Judy had arrived they had packed up an entire boy's room and three pets' supplies and put it all in Judy's car. Somehow, all the stuff they had packed and three animals fit into Judy's car. She gave a brief wave as Judy flew away with most of her heart. Now she had to wait for Greer.
“So tell me what you know about Brice?” Noel demanded.
Amelia rolled her eyes, “I told Brice everything, Noel. I tried to access her file and I couldn't. I don't have the clearance.”
Noel frowned at her, “I'm sure you can't access a lot of files. I think you were just trying to find a way to talk to her.”
Amelia's eyes hardened, “I'm being serious. I'm allowed to view almost everyone's files and medical histories. While trying to find a back way into Brice's files, I viewed her mother's, her father's, her brother's, and even yours…”
Amelia's eyes softened, “And I'm sorry.”
Noel shrugged, trying not to let it get to her, “Okay, I believe you. So why block Brice's medical files? She says she's never broken anything or had a cold. There's not much to hide.”
“A medical file holds other things such as blood work and DNA tests. Virus is after her and I'm betting the reason is in her medical file,” Amelia pressed.
“Okay,” Noel acknowledged, “Now I just have to find her real file. Thanks for the help.”
“Where is everybody?” Greer asked as she walked into the kitchen, helmet in hand. She had started growing concerned when no animals had greeted her at the door.
“I want to talk to you,” Brice said, standing in the middle of the kitchen, “Could we sit down?”
Greer's eyebrows frowned at her. “I'd prefer to stand.”
“Fine,” Brice said, weary. “John and Grail are at your mother's house.”
Greer placed her helmet on the counter and started taking off her motorcycle gloves, “I'm guessing they didn't go for a sleepover?”
“No,” Brice answered, “Your mother asked and I agreed that you two should move back in with her.”
Greer stared at Brice for a long moment. She accused, “You're going to leave. That's why Monty and Python aren't here. You're going to run away.”
Brice clenched her jaw, “No one said anything about running away. I'm…”
“What did my mother tell you? That John and I would be safer if we were away from you?”
Brice shook her head. “No, this is about me. For my safety…”
Brice flinched as Greer threw her gloves at her. She felt them smack her chest and looked down to see them fall to the floor. When she looked back up, Greer was standing right in front of her, looking furious.
Brice scolded herself for thinking of how attractive Greer looked with her hair ruffled from her helmet and her angry eyes.
“I told you last night that I'm here for you and I meant it. I can take care of myself and John. I even have enough left over to take care of you,” Greer practically growled, poking a finger into Brice's chest.
Brice swatted her offending hand away. She frowned, “I don't need you to take care of me. I'm capable of doing that myself.”
Greer laughed, humorlessly, “Sure you can.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot, since I'm a baron I can't take care of myself. I have to lie around and wait for some superhero to save me. Someone like you, right?” Brice asked, furiously.
Greer shouted in frustration, “Why does it always come back to having powers with you? Why can't you fucking get over that? You're a baron! Deal with it! And running away is not the answer!”
“Screw you. You don't know what it's like to be me so don't you dare think you can tell me what to do.”
The blonde woman glared at her for a moment and then shook her head, “It's not going to work. I'm not going to get mad and leave so you can run away. We can get through this Brice. If you want to go into hiding, that's okay. We'll go together.”
“This isn't about you!” Brice shouted, causing Greer to back up a step, “Listen, little girl, you're an okay friend but that's all you are to me! You have no say in my life! You don't get an opinion or a vote!”
Brice saw the flash of hurt in Greer's eyes and pushed forward, even though it was hurting both of them, “Oh, what? Did you think there was something more between us? Did you think something was going to come from all those shy looks or touches? Did you think we'd play ‘house' forever? News flash: Nothing is going to happen between us. You're too young, too arrogant, and you still act like a stuck-up teenager half the time. I'm not in love with you. I never will be in love with you.”
Greer looked stricken. She opened her mouth, but Brice interjected, “Just save whatever you have to say. Your opinion is not going to make any difference to me. You're just a little kid playing superhero, which is fine. Go play Michael, who's your own age. I'm doing this and you don't get a say. You're too young, too immature, and you don't compare when it comes to…”
The slap echoed in the kitchen and Brice stopped talking. She stared out the windows while she listened to Greer brokenly inhale and exhale. She didn't look up as the woman stormed out of the room and then out of the house. She didn't move until she heard the bike speed away.
She unsteadily leaned against the counter, her hands on her head. Tears started falling from her eyes as a sob burst from her chest. She stood there and cried until she had no more tears. Then she went to sit on the front porch where more tears slipped down her face. She finally called Noel to come get her.
Brice didn't know where Noel took her. She didn't pay attention. The former bus driver was only grateful that Noel didn't ask any questions. The less she talked, the more likely she would go through with the whole plan.
She regretted not calling her mother and hoped the woman would understand why she had only sent a text saying she needed more time to adjust. Brice weakly smiled when she imagined returning home. Her mother would ground her until she died.
Noel showed her inside an abandoned warehouse and led her across the large floor space to a door in the back. This led to more corridors with lots of rooms.
“Just wait in here,” Noel said, opening a door to show a tiny office, “Greg and I have to create the ‘new' you.”
“Okay,” Brice said. She walked into the office and looked around. She heard the door softly close behind her. There was a desk, but no computer. She went to sit behind the desk in the simple office chair that squeaked when she sat down. For a short time she just stared at the draped green walls. She tried to imagine what was going to happen to her next, but all she could think about was the argument she had with Greer. Brice desperately wished she could take back some of the things she said and say the things she had wanted to say.
With a sudden interest, she started rummaging through the desk. She found a pen, an envelope, but no computer paper.
“Well, damn,” Brice muttered, pushing a drawer closed. She reopened the one above it to start the search over. She paused as she saw the pad of yellow sticky notes. Shaking her head, she searched the desk once again but didn't find any other form of paper.
Brice reluctantly took out sticky notes and uncapped the pen. She froze with the tip of the pen an inch away from the paper. She didn't know what to write.
She shook the pen between her fingers as her mind raced. Finally, she just decided to write.
“Dear Greer,” She started.
Noel opened the door of the office to see Brice sitting quietly at the desk.
“Do you know in six months I'm going to be thirty?” Brice asked, her head leaned back so she could stare up at the ceiling.
“Considering I turn thirty shortly after, yes I did know that,” Noel replied, rolling her eyes, “Thanks for reminding me.”
“Yeah but…,” Brice started and then stopped from frustration. She heaved a heavy sigh, “Your life is great, Noel. You're beautiful, powerful, and engaged to another beautiful and powerful woman. Now look at me. Who am I now? I'm unemployed and being chased by my best friend's dad, who seems to have a hard-on for me.”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Noel hedged. She then shook her head, “Brice, my life may seem great but…”
“But what?” Brice asked, finally taking herself out of the bone-crushing depression to see something was wrong with Noel. She stood up and walked around the desk to be closer to her friend.
Noel shook her head again, “It's nothing. Just found out something.”
“What did you find out?”
“It's no big deal,” Noel said, shrugging it off.
“Does it have to do with Virus?”
“In a way,” Noel softly replied, never looking at Brice.
Brice could tell her friend didn't want to talk about it, but she gave it one more try, “Noel, you can tell me anything. If there's something bothering you, I want to help. Even if I can't help, I still want to be there for you. Isn't that what being a friend is about? Trading sarcastic comments and being there when the other person needs you?”
Noel hinted a smile, “It's how most of my relationships work. I don't really want to talk about it right now but…I'll tell you when we catch Virus and you're safe again. How about that?”
“I suppose it's a deal I can make,” Brice said after staring at her best friend for a long time. She had the oddest feeling she knew what was wrong with Noel and that she even had the solution. She just didn't know what either was. It was a frustrating feeling.
Instead of lingering on the feeling, she moved to stand by her friend.
“I'm going to hug you,” Brice said
“I may even hug back,” Noel muttered, looking like she wanted to cry. Brice wrapped her arms around her friend, feeling the solid comfort of another human. She held on until they heard someone walking down the halls, and they broke away.
“Noel, I'm ready to transfigure her,” Greg said, coming into the room.
Brice didn't really know who ‘Greg' was or what he did. He was a plain looking man and she had the feeling she would lose him in a crowd.
“Yeah, be there in a minute, Greg,” Noel said without looking at him. Noel bent down to pick up the briefcase beside her and handed it to Brice.
“Here is your new identity. I created all the papers you'll need and destroyed any trail I left behind. You have a birth certificate, social security card, bank account with Wells Fargo, various ID cards, a paperback novel with your family life and history which you need to destroy once you read it, and some other things. The most important item is a slip of paper with a number and contact name on it. It will say Pizza Hut but it's a number that will always be able to reach me. Even though I won't know it's you calling, I'll always pick it up. Use it only if your cover has been blown or you're in great danger. Once Greg changes your appearance, you'll no longer be Brice Johnson. Both Greg and I will have our memories wiped of the past 24 hours after we see you off.”
“What does that mean?” Brice asked, her heart feeling heavy as she took the briefcase.
“It means I won't recognize you,” Noel stated honestly, “You could pass me on the street, say hello, and I wouldn't know you. Anybody who knows Brice will not know you. Nobody, including myself, will know how to get in contact with you. Only you can get in contact with us and Brice, you mustn't do that unless your life is endangered. Do I make myself clear?”
Brice reluctantly nodded. Noel swallowed heavily. She had done this countless of times. Why was this time so much harder?
“I guess once I walk through that door, I'm no longer Brice Johnson. Never thought an office would be where I ended,” Brice tried to joke. She frowned, “God, that didn't even make sense, did it?”
Noel couldn't stop herself. She reached out and wrapped her arms around Brice again.
“I don't want you to go,” Noel softly confessed, “I'll miss your stupid jokes, your stupid face, and the way you make me like having a stupid friend.”
Brice smiled even though it hurt, “I'll miss you too. Take care of everyone for me. Okay?”
Noel pulled away, trying to hide the fact that a tear had escaped her eye, “Yeah. Sure. It's just for a little while. I'll catch Virus in no time and it will be displayed all over the news. When you hear that, you can call me and I'll bring you home.”
“I'll wait for that day.”
“Well, let's go. You're about to get a makeover,” Noel tried to joke.
“You know, I think Greg should give you my nose,” Noel stated, suddenly serious, “Something to remember me by.”
Brice gave her friend an incredulous look, “Your nose? You have got to be kidding me.”
“Hey, it's a good nose.”
“I don't want your nose, Noel.”
“Lots of people would kill to have this nose.”
“Name two,” Brice retorted as they walked into the room where Greg was waiting. As the brown-haired woman looked around, she had expected something more for all the wait. Inside there were just two stools and he was holding a sketch pad. He smiled, “I've finished the drawing of how I'll transform you. Ready to see it?”
It was obviously more thrilling for him than it was for Brice. She tried to smile but looked back at Noel. Noel failed at smiling too, “Any last words?”
“You're not going to remember,” Brice retorted.
Noel shrugged, “I can write them down.”
“Well, tell everyone I love them.” Brice said easily. She then hesitated, unsure if she should give Noel the letter she had written. It was only because it would be the last thing she did as Brice Johnson for a long time that Brice gave Noel the note. She said, “Give this to Greer. I guess you can read it if you have to. It's just…an apology, I guess.”
Noel pocketed the letter without saying a word about it. She glanced at Greg and then back at Brice, “Are you ready?”
“No, but let's get this over with anyway.”
In Brice ' s next adventure:
No longer Brice Johnson, she has to learn to be someone else. However, changing her identity doesn't mean she'll stay safe.
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