Chapter 82

Camille couldn’t believe she’d let herself wind up in this situation. She should have just let Stella crush the phone instead of strong-arming her out tonight. It wasn’t just Stella and Violet forcing her that had convinced her to leave the dorm, though; it was a desire to get away from the events of the day. She didn’t want to sit at home and brood all night so she thought going out with her friends, even to a place she had zero desire to be, would at least get her mind off the encounter with Vince.

Seeing as Vince was now standing only a few feet away from her, that plan had failed about as horrifically as was conceivably possible. The others were talking and figuring out where to go next, but Camille was just trying to maintain and hold it together. Every now and then she would catch Vince’s eyes darting over to her. She reassured herself it was okay each time. He didn’t remember her. She might look familiar, but there was no way he would place her. It had probably just been another day for him, and it was all so long-

“Hey!” Vince said, snapping his fingers and looking at Camille. “I just remembered where I know you from.”

Camille let out a very soft, very high-pitched squeak and turned bright red.

*          *          *

“Freak!”

“Weirdo!”

“Monster!”

“Leave me alone,” Camille cried softly, curled up in a ball on the concrete. She’d just wanted to walk down to the pool, the day was so hot. She should have known better. Of course the other kids would be out with the same idea. Of course they would see her. She felt so stupid as she lay there, waiting for them to tire of throwing sticks and insults at her. She hoped it wouldn’t be much longer; usually by now an adult would have come by.

“My daddy says Supers are a menace,” Billy yelled at her, hurling a good-sized branch. Thankfully his small arms hadn’t yet learned to aim well.

“They’re Heroes,” Camille yelled back. She shouldn’t have done that, she regretted it the minute she did. She should have just laid there and been quiet while they assaulted her. Now it would be worse.

“Nuh uh,” Rick said, dropping his own stick and walking over to her. Billy might be the leader, but Rick was the enforcer, always willing to walk the extra mile of pain where others would shy off. “Only a few of them are Heroes, and they don’t fix everything the others mess up.”

“I’m sorry,” Camille sobbed.

“You’re a freak,” Rick said kicking her once in the back. This was new; they’d never gotten close to hurt her before. It was tentative: Rick was testing the waters. He kicked her once more. A whole new world of possibilities was opening up before his cruel little eyes. It seemed girls weren’t immune to being hit the way everybody tried to teach him. There was no magical force stopping him from kicking the freak just like she was a boy. He did it again just to reinforce the point. She let a cry slip past her lips when he did it this time. A smile began to form on his face. It lingered there for only a moment before a set of knuckles crashed into it, fracturing his jaw and knocking out several teeth in the process.

“Whhhoduhhelllls,” Rick gurgled from his bloody mouth, trying to pull himself up from the ground. Camille opened her eyes as well, curiosity at the sudden silence that had fallen over her tormentors. Both the downed torturer and the saved victim looked up and saw the boy who had saved her. It was an image that would stay with both of them for the rest of their lives.

He was long and lean, with clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks, if ever. There was some dirt on his hands and face, his skin tan from all the time spent outdoors. His eyes were a gleaming blue and his hair was curiously colored a metallic silver.

“You don’t hit girls,” the boy said simply. He extended a hand to Camille, who gladly took it and was pulled to her feet.

“Hey, you can’t just punch our friend,” Billy said. The others had been momentarily struck dumb when this strange kid had run across the street of their small suburb and coldcocked Rick, but they were coming round to their senses. One such sense was the ability to realize it was still five of them against one of him.

“He was kicking a girl,” the boy replied.

“Well, now we’re going to beat up both of you,” Billy said, motioning for the others to begin closing in.

The boy looked at the other children, then at Billy, then his blue eyes stared at Camille for several seconds. He turned back to Billy and shook his head.

“No.”

“What do you mean, no?” Billy asked, confused.

“I mean I can’t let you beat us up. I won’t let you hurt her,” the boy replied with that same unwavering tone. There was no fear, no uncertainty, just a calm denial of what was about to happen.

“You think you can take us all?”

“Yes.”

Billy glanced at the others. They were growing restless. This kid wasn’t responding the way others did when confronted with a large group. They were beginning to wonder if something was different here. If he wanted to maintain control, Billy had to act now.

“Fine. Forget the freak, get him!” Billy yelled, charging at the boy. The others hesitated only a moment before doing the same. Billy ran head on, expecting to sink his shoulder into the boy’s gut and drive him to the ground. Instead he felt a fist bury itself in his ear, destroying his sense of balance and sending him sprawling. By the time he was able to right himself and look up it was already over. There were bloody noses and faces on his companions, who were scattered around the ground, but the boy was still standing in the same spot, looking unharmed.

“You don’t hit girls,” the boy said one last time. “Or people like me will stop you.” He turned to Camille. “I’ll walk you home.”

“Thank you,” she said, tears still falling down her face, though she wasn’t quite sure why anymore.

The two walked in silence for the first block or so, the boy naturally silent and Camille uncertain of what to say. Finally she decided to begin with the basics.

“What’s your name?” she asked the boy.

“Vince,” he replied. “Yours?”

“Camy Belden,” she said, preferring the nickname her parents had given her to the stuffy one she’d been born with. “It’s nice to meet you, Vince... what’s your last name?”

“I don’t have one,” he replied. “My dad says he threw his away, so he doesn’t have one to pass onto me. He also says if I grow into a good man he’ll help me find one, though.”

“Oh. That’s... cool,” Camille said, not sure of what to make of such a thing. “How old are you?”

“Nine. You?”

“I’m nine, too,” she said, smiling inwardly. He was the same age as she was. That made her inexplicably happy.

“Neat,” Vince said. “You seem pretty nice. I’m sorry those guys were being so mean to you.”

Camille shook her head. “It’s not about me being nice. They don’t like me because I’m a Super. They say it makes me freak.”

“You’re a Super?” Vince yelped, his voice full of shock.

“Um, yes,” Camille said, kicking herself once more for opening her big mouth. He probably hated them too, and now he would hate her and be sad he’d even bothered saving her. Why did she say anything?

“That’s awesome!” Vince said excitedly. “What’s your ability? Is it cool? How long have you known?”

Camille didn’t quite know how to respond to this. Everyone said being a Super was great, yet everyone she met seemed to treat her badly because of it. Camille was too young to understand something as complex as that level of jealousy, but she could still feel the hatred from it. Vince wasn’t acting that way, though. He really seemed to like it.

“I take away scrapes and bruises by touching someone,” Camille explained. “But then I can also give those scrapes and bruises to other people if I touch them.”

“Oh wow, so you’re sort of an absorber then.”

“Absorber?”

“It means you kind of take something into yourself, hold it there, then release it when you want to. It’s what my father says I am,” Vince explained.

“You’re a Super, too?” Camille asked.

“No.” Vince’s face fell immediately and his pace slowed down a touch. “I’m just a Powered. I can’t really control my ability at all. I just make batteries go dead or kill the campfire by accident. When it comes out it’s worse, though. I’ve set things on fire by accident three times just this year.”

“I’m sorry,” Camille said.

“It’s okay,” Vince said, shrugging off the dour mood. “I just have to help people in different ways, like by learning how to fight.”

“You sure did that,” Camille said, remembering how he’d so easily knocked down the children that had seemed unstoppable to her for so long.

“I still have a long way to go,” Vince said. “Besides, I don’t like fighting very much. I already hurt people enough by accident with my power. You’re lucky you get to make them feel better.”

“I don’t feel lucky,” Camille admitted for the first time. She’d never met anyone else with powers before, never had anyone to talk about this sort of thing with. “I feel like nobody likes me, like I’m always getting picked on just because I can do something they can’t. I don’t even want to do it; I just want to be normal.” Tears once again found their way down her small cheeks.

“You’re not using it, maybe that’s why you hate it so much,” Vince told her.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re special. You can do something others can’t, no matter how hard they work at it. You won’t ever be normal. You can be a Super, though. You can use your ability to help people and make a difference.”

“But they’ll still hate me,” Camille said,

“Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, won’t you be happier as the one saving people than the one needing saving?”

“I don’t know,” Camille admitted.

“Might be worth trying. My father always says we have to be the best version of us instead of trying to be someone else. I really want to be a Super instead of a Powered. No amount of wishing will make that happen, though, so instead I’m just trying to be a better Powered,” Vince said.

“I guess that sort of makes sense,” Camille said hesitantly. “Um, this white one is my house.”

“Oh, okay,” Vince said. “It was nice to meet you, Camy.”

“It was. We could hang out again sometime,” she ventured hopefully. “What street do you live on?”

“I don’t,” Vince replied. “My father and I are just passing through. I have to go meet him soon, actually. We’re catching a train out of town tonight.”

“Oh. So I won’t see you again?” Camille asked.

“Probably not. The trains don’t come through here too often,” Vince said.

“Well then... thank you again,” she said, heartbreak already seeping in. Her hero, the first real friend she’d had, wouldn’t even be here for one more night. That hurt more than anything Billy or Rick had ever done. That’s when Camille did possibly the first, but by no means the last, brave thing of her life. She whirled around a quickly planted a peck right on Vince’s lips. That accomplished, Camille dashed up the sidewalk to the front door of her house, pausing only briefly to glance back and see his reaction. Vince’s cheeks were bright red, but there was a smile on his face. It nearly matched the one nestled firmly on Camille’s.

Neither knew it, but they were both each other’s first kiss.

*          *          *

“Hey!” Vince said, snapping his fingers and looking at Camille. “I just remembered where I know you from.”

Camille let out a very soft, very high-pitched squeak and turned bright red.

“You were the healer at Jill and Sasha’s fight, weren’t you?” Vince asked.

Camille slowly nodded her head and prayed the blood would move away from her face sometime soon.

“Ah, great. I knew you looked familiar. That was driving me crazy.”