The screen door slaps against the house and I turn to find Birdie wandering out, hair in disarray, mug of coffee in hand. “She’s not back yet?”
My jaw pops under the pressure. “Nope.”
Silence passes. “So you’re just going to be sitting here like the post-transformation Hulk when she pulls up?” She pauses with the coffee mug on her lips and sing-songs, “Creepy.”
“I don’t like…” I blow out a breath. “The unknown. I don’t like having no gauge on the situation.”
“You’re used to having coordinates and commands and an AK strapped across your chest.”
“Yes.” Birdie sits down next to me on the bumper and lets me take a sip of her coffee. I watch her hover over the rim, marveling at how well she reads me when I’m positive I give nothing away. I’ve been marveling over her a lot lately. “I know we’re in Florida. Logically. But I’ve been there to see how fast it can end. It’s just…” I snap my fingers and feel an answering jolt inside of me. “I know I can’t prevent bad things from happening to people, but it’s fucking torture not being allowed to try.”
The side of my face warms where Birdie studies my profile. “I’m sorry.”
That cocked trigger in my chest eases back to the safety position. “That actually helps.”
We sit in silence for a while as she downs her brew. “Do you worry about me like that?”
As soon as she sees my incredulous expression, she looks away. “Of course I do, Birdie. I’ve got our house locked down like Fort Knox. If it was just me, I’d probably leave the doors unlocked, hoping someone would break in and give me the fight I need.”
That was revealing. Even to myself. But Birdie just nods, a smile playing around her edges of her mouth. Her question seems to still be lingering in the air, though, so I keep talking.
“You didn’t have me here to look out for you and Nat. For a long time. Didn’t make it my concern.” A warm breeze picks up my words and carries them around the driveway. “Does that make you skeptical now that I care as much as I say I do?”
“Yeah,” she says without hesitating.
“That’s fair.” I clear my crowded throat into the silent morning. “It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that you’re a superhero. Especially when you’re twenty-odd years old and you’ve been recruited for a specific purpose. Because you were noticed, picked ahead of everyone else. You’re avenging mankind, fighting on behalf of the greater good.” I’m saying things as they occur to me and time seems to slow. “But there’s more than one kind of greater good. It doesn’t have to be a whole country or even a town. Sometimes it’s just a house.” I swallow as she leans into my side. “Or my sister. In that case, she’s greater than good.”
“Thanks.” I can’t see her face, but I sense she’s not smiling. “Do you think you’ll forget about the other greater goods when you leave?”
That jolt is back again, but this time it burns. Naomi’s butterfly-painted body and look of wonder dances through my head, along with the moving image of Birdie slow dancing. “No. I won’t forget this time.”
“Good.” Her side leaves mine as she stands, swirling the remains of her coffee inside the mug. “So…are you going to tell me what happened when you found Naomi last night?”
She laughs. “Oh shit. Good or bad?”
I press my tongue to the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “Not answering.”
“Give me something!” Her eyebrows waggled. “Was she naked?”
“There were some strategic butterflies.”
Birdie stumbles in a circle, holding her sides and giggling. “Did you flip out?”
“No,” I say quietly. “It almost came to that, but…she needed to parade naked down the street in body paint. I didn’t want to ruin it.”
After a few beats of silence pass, I look up to find my sister watching me. “You’re starting to realize you don’t hold the controls to the universe.”
I don’t realize Birdie has gone back inside until the screen door whaps off the house again, but I’m still thinking about what she said. What we spoke about. I can’t dictate how everyone lives their life. I couldn’t even dictate the rescue or loss of life when I was a superhero with a weapon at the ready. Not every single time. There are forces outside the control of normal human capabilities. God, do I really have such an inflated ego that I’m struggling to admit that I’m human?
It’s impossible to resist another check of my watch. Almost eleven o’clock now. It’s not just Naomi’s safety that has me sitting here, though, is it? I want my answer. I need to know if she’s willing to be with me…for now. More than anything, I want her to pull up in her Rover, step out and run to me. Fuck. I’ve never wanted a romantic entanglement before. Never in my life. I’ve wanted to remain free of them. I want Naomi to tangle me the hell up, though. Messy, ill-advised, potentially ruinous. None of that matters when it’s weighed against touching her, the end of my stay in purgatory. The end of us stopping conversations before they become too much. I want to push for more. Want her to push me for more.