Authors: Kitty Bucholtz
SUPERHERO IN DISGUISE
Published by Daydreamer Entertainment
Copyright 2013 Kathleen Bucholtz
Cover design by John Bucholtz
Cover image “Superhero in City” copyright Martin Malchev |
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Tori Lewis grinned as she and her sister Lexie dropped Tori’s mattress on the floor. She put her hands on her hips and caught her breath. For only a double size mattress, that sucker was heavy. Especially when they got it stuck in the doorway of her new house.
A place all her own, even if it was only studio sized. There was a time Tori would never have believed she’d have her own home. When she’d moved in with Lexie three years ago, she was sure that was how her life would end—two old women bickering good naturedly with each other in between visits from the nephew/son who adored them, no other men in sight.
Yet here she was, totally psyched about her new digs. The first time she’d seen the place, the
had sounded in her head. It was a tiny little building in the backyard of another house, a few blocks deeper into a not-so-great area of the city than where she and Lexie lived now. Peach stucco with white trim on the outside, peach and white paint on the inside, it was totally cute without being girly-girl. The main house, a three-bedroom ranch, sat at the front on the street, and another little one-bedroom house leaned up against the alley.
Now Tori had her own bathroom, two—count them,
—parking spaces in the trash-filled alley, and a little patch of actual green grass. Well, browning grass. Halloween in Northern Michigan, and no snow in the forecast.
Tori glanced out the rear window at the empty lot next door. Weeds the size of small trees and a dozen feral cats added a bit of Halloween spookiness even though it was still daytime.
A shiver tingled down her spine. Was she really going through with her plan, Operation Freedom? Or was she just pretending?
But a look through her front window showed a well-kept, if tiny, lawn with struggling rosebushes lining the sidewalk. The rosebushes were the reason Tori had signed the lease. If they could survive and thrive, so could she, right? Okay, so maybe they weren’t
. They just needed some tender loving care. She would nurture the roses, and somehow they would help her grow stronger, too. She’d just have to mimic the front yard of her new home, not the backyard.
Tori sighed happily. She used one foot to maneuver the mattress up against the rear wall between two windows. “Well, the bedroom’s all set up. Let’s get started on the living room and office.”
Lexie laughed with her and took in the entire house in one not-so-long glance. “A three-hundred-square-foot room, huh? It’s not much.”
“Three hundred and forty-three,” Tori corrected. “And it’s all mine.” She threw her arm around Lexie. “For the first time in twenty-seven years, I don’t have to share a bathroom. I don’t even have to worry about the neighbors hearing the TV through the walls. It’s a little
, not an apartment, and it’s all mine!”
Tori squeezed her sister’s shoulders to keep from clapping her hands. But the excitement came out through her feet, and she bounced on her toes. Her face was going to hurt if she didn’t stop grinning. Her plan was a good one.
“Well, if this is what you want,” Lexie said with a shrug, “I’m not going to rain on your parade.”
But Tori could feel her sister’s disappointment. It gathered and ebbed in the air as Lexie tried to hold it in. It was a weird Lexie-thing that no one could explain. Whenever she suffered a strong emotion, it radiated out. People nearby would begin to feel what Lexie felt, sometimes to a debilitating degree. It frightened their mother, Dixie. Their stepdad (who was really just “Dad”) and younger siblings seemed more curious than frightened, but Dixie wouldn’t allow anyone to talk about it. It was one of the elephants in the room at the family zoo.
Tori had learned to push back against the overpowering billows of Lexie’s emotions, and she did so now. Pretending her sister’s feelings were behind a movable glass wall, Tori focused on pushing the wall away, giving herself some emotional space. Lexie’s disappointment eased back, and Tori’s excitement returned.
She gave her sister another squeeze and kissed her cheek. Lexie could feel what Tori was feeling, too; that was the counterbalance. Tori focused her enthusiasm until Lexie gave in. A warmer sensation flowed between them, and Tori felt her sister relax. Much as their parents loved them, both girls had always known there was only one person they could count on: each other. Tori was determined never to let her sister down.
She grabbed Lexie’s hand and dragged her back to the rented U-Haul in the alley. Today was the most exciting day of her life, and nothing was going to ruin it. One item at a time, they unloaded Tori’s life. First came the computer desk Tori had bought at IKEA when she graduated from college and got her first “real” paycheck. Then came two bookcases, a TV stand, and an office chair—IKEA, IKEA, Office Max—and the little studio was already crowded.
“Are you sure about this?” Lexie asked, permanent worry lines etched across her forehead. “We haven’t even brought in any boxes yet.”
Tori pushed against Lexie’s anxiety. Her own fear could wait until the dark night brought strange noises. She tried not to think about how creepy it might be to sleep here alone for the first time on Halloween night. “I’ll have my own bathroom,” Tori reminded her. “No plastic potty, no Elmo bath toys. I can light candles and take a bath for more than ten minutes.”
Lexie laughed. “Okay, okay, I get it. It’s paradise.” She started out the door, then paused and asked, “Can I take a bath here?”
Tori chuckled as she pushed her sister through the doorway. “I’ll give you a key.” She couldn’t remember ever feeling so good. Would she feel even better when she stole back other freedoms? Imagine—no more shrink, no more medications, no more thinking of herself as broken and in need of fixing. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around what that might be like.
For twenty-two years, Dr. Huntington had been an unwanted authority figure in her life. Weekly visits and innumerable pills hadn’t given Dixie the “normal” daughter she wanted, nor Tori the reassurance of unconditional love from her mother. An incident at this year’s annual Labor Day family reunion had pushed Tori for the last time, and she’d begun changing her life in secret.
As she climbed up and down the three steps to her front door, bringing in box after box from the truck, Tori’s insecurities rose and fell. Was this move a bad idea? She and Lexie had been doing so well living together. Lexie hadn’t reverted to any of her old patterns, even early on when they were stressed about paying the rent and buying groceries. What if things took a turn for the worse and Lexie ended up back on the street, this time with her two-year-old son Ben? What would happen when Dixie found out Tori decided to stop going to the shrink? Would Tori’s choices help her grow as a person or drive a wedge between her and the people she loved?
The way she went from acting strong and courageous to scared witless and back again, maybe she
continue with counseling. Maybe she should’ve waited until Ben was in school before she moved out. That way—
“Stop!” Lexie came up behind Tori, her arms full of boxes. She dropped them against a wall and turned to Tori with that “mother” look she’d almost mastered. “Stop worrying! What’s the worst thing that can happen? You move in with me again.” She studied Tori’s face for a moment. “And if you’re worried about what Mom thinks, just…” Her voice softened. “Just stop. You’re a grown woman, you need to make your own decisions.”
Tori sighed and opened a box. Their dad, Danny, assured them that everything Dixie did or said was because she loved them. But a great divide existed between mother and daughters. Tori wondered if their half-brother and -sister, Kevin and Samantha, ever had to be reassured of their mother’s love. Dixie doted on her two younger children.
“I don’t want to make the wrong choice,” she said as she put books on a bookshelf.
“Well, get over it.” Lexie put Tori’s little TV on the TV stand and plugged it in. “Life is full of wrong choices. Look at me. But then there are the unexpected blessings, like Ben, so…I’m not convinced wrong choices always turn out so bad.”
Lexie didn’t talk about “blessings” much, but when she did, her son was usually the focus of the discussion. Tori didn’t know if Lexie still believed in God, but she’d changed a lot since Ben came along. Maybe if moving out wasn’t the best choice for Tori, it would still turn out okay in the end.
Tori hesitated, afraid to tell her sister about her other plans.
As usual, Lexie picked up on her emotional vibe. “You’re trying to decide if something else is the wrong choice?” Lexie stacked DVDs on the shelf under the TV. “You’re still taking your medication, right?”
This was the reason people often thought Lexie was a mind reader. She wasn’t, but she was scary good at guessing what was going on in your head based on your emotions. Tori wanted to answer the question, “Of course!” But lying didn’t work very well around Lexie unless you were
good at it. The silence was deafening.
Lexie turned toward her, crossing her arms in big-sister mode. “You’re kidding me.” She sighed. “Tori...”
“I’m mostly still taking them, but I don’t think I need them,” Tori burst out. “No one makes
take any pills!”
Lexie snorted. “No one
make me, that’s why.”
Tori threw her arms wide. “But I don’t have impulse control issues or an anger management problem. I’m fine!”
They stared at each other, feeling the swirl of each other’s emotions, pushing and pulling in a wordless argument.
Lexie gave in first. “Fine. You decide what you think is best.” She pointed a finger at Tori. “But if anything happens—”
? What’s going to happen? No one will ever answer that question!” Years of frustration spilled out. “
Just tell me
Tori watched as Lexie’s face crumpled. She seemed to be trying to speak, or not to speak, Tori couldn’t tell. She rushed the few feet to her sister and grabbed her shoulders. “Are you okay?”
The emotions in the room swirled with helplessness and secret fears and…was that resignation emanating from her sister? Lexie relaxed with visible effort. Her clenched jaw loosened, and her facial muscles smoothed. She took a breath.
“Remember when you were little, and you had problems at school?”
Sort of. Tori remembered the kids didn’t like her. She nodded.
“Do you remember why?”
Tori thought back. “I wanted to play with them, and they wouldn’t let me.” The memory still hurt.
Her sister shook her head. “No, you
them to play with you. That’s what they didn’t like.”
Tori sifted through memories and old hurts. “I didn’t...” She was going to say,
I didn’t force them
. But then she remembered being very little, in a store, wanting a toy, and throwing a temper tantrum until her mother bought her the toy...and she remembered Dixie’s face.
Her mother was afraid of her.
BY THE time they finished unpacking and returned the truck, dusk had settled. They picked up Chinese take-out and went to Lexie’s to get dressed and hand out candy. Tori loved her Pirate Wench costume. It was sassy and bold and completely unlike her. She’d rented a blonde wig, bought some fishnet stockings, and borrowed a pair of ridiculously high heels she could barely walk in. It was perfect.
Lexie wore an adorable Little Red Riding Hood costume she’d made, and little Ben spent a couple of hours as a cute pumpkin until he screamed to get out of the puffy gourd. Immediately upon his release, he reverted to his usual angelic self.
“Just because you can’t talk much doesn’t mean you don’t know exactly what you’re doing,” Tori chided him with a mock frown. He grinned at her.
Around 9:30, Tori decided to call it a night. Seeing all the costumes was fun, but tonight she was eager to go home. Besides, she needed to get away from all the little packages of M&M’s. Plain, peanut, peanut butter, and pretzel—Tori loved them all. She couldn’t decide if they were her kryptonite or her energy source, but she’d eaten at least six packets tonight, probably more. She tried not to let the words “stress eating” settle in her mind. Besides, the half gallon of fresh apple cider counted as a fruit. Several times over.