Chapter 183

              Angela was going to miss her house. She would also miss her friends, her school, her rivals, and her boyfriend; but all of that was too emotionally sticky to let herself dwell on so soon. There would be time for it all later, when the end had arrived and she was forced to confront the overwhelming sense of loss she’d face at being taken from almost every component of her life for the last four years. Until then, however, all Angela allowed herself to admit was that she was going to miss the house she rented. It was small, but serviceable, and it has been her little oasis ever since sophomore year. Each day, when she pulled into her driveway, she allowed herself a few minutes to take in the sight of it, every tree in the yard and chip of paint on the exterior.

                Sadly, when she pulled in on a late spring evening after hours of training, Angela didn’t get the opportunity to revel in the sight of her home. A car was already pulled into her driveway, one she recognized in an instant. It was a simple sedan, built for the pragmatic and budget-conscious. She’d rolled her eyes on the first day Shane drove it up, and she rolled them again as she stepped out of her red sports car. The damn thing was ancient, halfway to broken down, and practically drank gas, but it went fast and felt cool; which was more than enough of a trade-off for Angela.

                “You’d better have dinner on the table,” Angela announced as she waltzed through the front door. She’d long ago given Shane a key to the place for emergencies, but she’d also made it clear that she liked her space and didn’t enjoy drop-in visits.

                Shane was sitting on her couch, reading from a book so boring that she dearly hoped it was for one of his classes. He looked up at the sound of her voice. “No one could get ahold of you by phone.”

                “And that means busting into my place is okay?” Angela’s hand groped through her purse, finally clutching onto the small electronic device. She pulled the silver flip-phone from the purse’s depth, Angela steadfastly refused to upgrade to one of the fancy touchscreens that devoured people’s lives, and checked the screen to find it unresponsive. A quick mental calculation reminded her that she hadn’t charged the thing in at least a day, which would account for it powering down.

                “It is when I’m supposed to deliver official family news.” Shane shut his book and stood up from the couch. “Grandfather has announced his intention to come watch your showing at Intermurals.”

                “Aw, that’s so sweet. I haven’t seen Paw Paw actually make a trip since your freshman Parent’s Day weekend.” Fumbling about on a table near the couch, Angela produced a small charging cord and plugged her phone into it. She wondered how many calls she had missed. At least Chad was the type who would assume she was just busy training, not avoiding him. The boy was as low-maintenance as they came, which was one of the many qualities she enjoyed about him.

                “You know Grandfather doesn’t like such undignified nicknames,” Shane told her, his face still pinched. It was obvious he cared more about something that was unsaid than what she called their grandpa, but Angela had no inclination to make it easy by calling him out on it. He had to learn to speak up for himself, if he wanted to get things talked about.

                “He doesn’t like it when most people do that. I can get away with it,” Angela said, tossing in a wink for good measure.

                “Because you’re his favorite.” To his credit, Shane was able to keep his body language from turning truly aggressive, but he didn’t quite manage to stop all of the resentment from leaking into his voice.

                “Because I’m his widdle granddaughter, silly. And, more importantly, since I’m an adult, I can call him whatever I want. So can you, for that matter. He just acts tough anyway; don’t act like you don’t see the happy twinkle in that old curmudgeon’s eye when I use cute nicknames.” Angela finished getting her phone set up, then dropped her purse on the counter as she headed toward the kitchen. Training had been especially harsh as Intermurals drew closer; she was famished.

                “It’s happening at Intermurals, isn’t it?” Shane didn’t yell at her, he didn’t even seem as angry as she’d expected him to be. He just spat the words out while glaring at the floor. It was good, but she wasn’t going to let him slide by playing the pronoun game. Soon Angela would be gone; she had to do all she could for her little brother while time remained.

                “Is what going to happen?” Angela stopped her trek to the kitchen and glance back at Shane over her shoulder. “Me kicking ass? Totally. Me putting Lander on top? Yup! Me being hoisted onto people’s shoulders and worshiped as a goddess of battle, showered in gold and champagne? Well, that one is dicey, but I like to think-”

                “The name.” Shane took a deep breath and looked up from the floor to meet his older sister’s eyes. “He’s going to come watch you perform, and if you do well he’s going to officially offer you the name. It has to be then; you need a Hero name when you graduate. Assuming you win, which you always do, Grandfather is going to make you the new Captain Starlight.”

                Angela took her time responding, she was impressed he’d managed to get that much out and she didn’t want to treat it flippantly. Shane didn’t like to talk about the gauntlet that had been thrown down between them so many years ago. He just buried himself in training, and study, and effort, all dedicated toward showing that he had more potential than his sister. That he should be the one to carry on the Captain Starlight legacy.

                “Honestly, I think that’s a fair assumption,” Angela said, all trace of humor momentarily gone from her voice. “With him, it’s hard to say anything for sure, but the timeline issues you pointed out are valid, so there doesn’t seem to be any other way for it to go down.”

                “Then… it’s over. I won’t have the chance to demonstrate any kind of skill that can prove my worth before your big battle. Unless you royally screw up, he’ll give you the name. He has to. You’ve stood at the top of your class since you got here, and I still haven’t beaten Chad even once. Captain Starlight doesn’t belong to someone in second place.”

                “Captain Starlight also doesn’t give up until the battle is over,” Angela said, her voice suddenly fierce. “Don’t you dare fucking lay down and die on me. Not after all we’ve been through.” She strode across the room and grabbed her brother by the collar of his shirt, as if she could shake the very ennui out of him.

                “I’m going to win, Shane. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. You’re going to keep chasing me. And maybe, at the very end, you’re going to pull off some sort of insane bullshit that I will have never expected and you’ll steal victory out from under me. Because that’s who you are. You’ve spent your whole life trying to get out from other people’s shadows, you refused to quit no matter who your rival was. Don’t lose that now, little brother. It’s the thing that’s made you so good, that’s kept you in the running. Don’t lose your real power.”

                Shane stared at her with wide, uncertain eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Angela be serious about something, let alone given him encouragement. As quickly as it came over her, the solemn expression vanished, and she released him and started heading back to the kitchen.

                “I’m going to make oven pizzas. Since you’re already here, you might as well hang out and have some. Clear off the table and get us some beers.” Angela paused to look back at him one last time. “And if I ever hear you talk about giving up again, I will personally beat your ass so hard that they’ll need five healers to put you back together.”

                Shane nodded and watched her leave. She was a madwoman, there had never been any question of that, but she was also right. It wasn’t over yet. And he couldn’t stop now. Shane DeSoto would fight on until the very end. If she won, then so be it, but it wouldn’t be because he didn’t do everything he could to surpass her. He’d keep chasing her, just like he had since they were children.