“Mr. Murray, am I boring you?”
Will swiveled his head toward the chemistry professor, who was glaring at him as snickers of his classmates filled the room. “No, sir.”
“Then why have you not looked at your book once in last ten minutes?”
It was true; Will confirmed it with a dart of his eyes to the clock. He’d let his mind wander to more essential tasks and his focus had gotten away from him. The truth was Will’s attendance to this class was purely out of courtesy in the first place. He was already well-acquainted with every concept that would be covered and could likely teach the professor a few lessons on the subject matter. That was the HCP side of Will, however; up here he had to pass for a normal student, he had to be like everyone else.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“It’s your education, Mr. Murray. I can’t force you to take it seriously; but, if you don’t fix your attitude, I’m sure the results will be apparent by the end of this course.”
“I’ll do better, sir.”
“That remains to be seen.”
The professor began to lecture again, and Will made a point of staring at his book as his concentration ebbed away. He couldn’t help it; this morning he’d seen Jill field a call from Glenn during a class. It wasn’t surprising that he called when he knew she couldn’t answer, or that she almost picked up the phone anyway. No, the worrying part was that when she’d glanced at the phone Will saw The Look on her face. It was a mixture of uncertainty, worry, and just a trace of fear. It meant that the Glenn situation had progressed to the point where Jill faced repercussions for something as simple as an unanswered call. It had been a long time since Will saw The Look on his sister’s face, and he’d hoped with all he had to never see it again.
* * *
Snow had fallen two days ago, but the streets downtown didn’t tolerate such pleasantries for long. Heat from passing cars had turned the white powder into a grey slush that ran in dark rivers down the drains positioned at key points along the corners. It was not a scene appropriate to any holiday, let alone Christmas, but people who moved here didn’t do it in search of picturesque nostalgia. One mound of dirty slush bore a small bootprint, made by a boy no more than ten years old. This was discernible not by an exceptional means of deduction, but rather by the fact that the boy in question stood only a few feet away from his inadvertent mark.
He was a lean boy, bearing the figure of one who is either in the middle of or just completing a growth spurt. The store window he stood in front of was dark, but the light from the streetlamps reflected off of his thick glasses housed in quite unfashionable frames. His gaze was unwavering from the storefront set before him; even as the wind tugged at his too-thin jacket, the boy’s focus never slipped. Neither did the brick clutched tightly in his hand.
Will Murray, never Billy or Bill or even the proper William, for those names lacked a very specific characteristic, took mental inventory of the poorly-lit hardware store from his stance on the street. Power saws, sanders, chainsaws, the place had an ample supply of base mechanical parts. It also held a section for computer hardware; the owners had felt that offering both types of product would widen their demographic and hopefully double their business. What they had learned instead was that the people who work on computers and the people who work with industrial tools are very rarely comfortable around one another. It was why they hadn’t gotten a store in a better part of town, it was why their alarm system had been cheap and taken no time to disengage, and it was why Will had chosen this store out of all the others he knew about.
His arm was getting tired. Will was hesitating and he knew it. This was the last place where he could still walk away from everything. Hurling the brick would quite literally be the point of no return. He’d have to push forward, no matter what happened. Will was a very smart child; he knew that the odds dictated almost exclusively negative endings following this course of action. Even if he succeeded, this was a serious crime. With a criminal history on his resume it would be almost impossible to get into the Hero Certification Program one day, to say nothing of the time he’d spend in juvenile hall. It had been his dream for so long, and now that they were finally willing to call what he had a certifiable power, he was going to shatter that dream right along with this storefront window.
Jill would call him stupid. Jill would say he should think about the future, not be so impulsive. Jill wasn’t here; their mother had won custody of her in the divorce. Jill would say she was fine, she would say they were only little bruises and their mother so rarely lost control to that point. Jill didn’t understand patterns of escalation. Jill couldn’t fathom the depths of their mother’s instability. Jill refused to acknowledge that her injuries were getting bigger and showing up more frequently. Will saw all of it; he saw what had come to pass and what lurked on the horizon. Will had seen The Look in his sister’s face when their mother picked her up today. Will understood it was only a matter of time before Jill became hurt in a way that could never be repaired.
The glass made a tinkling sound as it rained to the ground. Will had expected something louder, more ear-catching. He supposed that was due to the exaggerations of cinema and their over-the-top sound effects. Will was surprised to realize he felt calmer than he had before the throw. Perhaps it was because there was no longer anything to fret over. The die, or in this case brick, had been cast. The ramifications were upon him regardless of how he proceeded from here. Knowing that, it was clear that the logical choice was to do his very best to save Jill before the repercussions caught up to him.
The boy stepped carefully over the jagged shards of his dream and the storefront glass. It was a shame; he had genuinely wanted to be a Hero someday. The idea was pleasant, but ultimately irrelevant. No Hero was going to help Jill, no cape-wearing champion would steal her away from the house where she regularly cowered in fear. Only her brother, only Will, would be the one to save her. There was a soft click as Will turned on his flashlight, a dim beam of light slicing through the dark interior. The time for reflection was done; now was the time for action.
Will Murray, the only moniker he accepted of all the nickname options because it appropriately rhymed with his sister’s, pulled off his mitten and began to work.