Hidden BeautybyAlex the Cat©
Disclaimers and what not: Well I've been tinkering with the plot of this story for months. Between work and family and a dozen other things keeping me away from the lap top, I became stuck with how I would be able to develop and incorporate the character of the superhero. Now that I'm finally finished, I hope you find it an enjoyable read.
Thank you to my beta reader for your support, your faith in me, and your input. It means a lot.
The guarded figure crouched on one knee at the edge of the rooftop. The city streets below were filled with the cacophony of sirens, automobile horns, taxi drivers yelling obscenities, and dozens of people coming to and fro. The figure watched silently, drinking in what little peace was available on this perch. Peace. Funny word. So many seek it, some will fight for it, and yet so little find it. Stern eyes narrowed on a suspicious character steadily following a woman carrying a white walking cane who had just gotten off the city bus.
The sight-impaired female sensed someone was behind her and had been since 34th and Garth Streets. She had one more block to go after crossing the park. That was the shortest way home. If only that meeting at work hadn't gone so late, she would've made it home before dark, but now her choices were to take the longer route around the park or cut through it like she normally did. She held her keys tightly in one hand with the point of each key sticking out from between her fingers like she was taught in self-defense class. The other hand gripped her walking cane firmly. Even the cane was something she learned she could use as a weapon, and she had every intention of doing so.
The sound of a twig snapping on the park grounds caught her attention. The pursuer was closer than she thought. "Would you like some assistance across the park? There are a lot of suspicious people lurking about." She heard the gravelly masculine voice say just behind her. A wave of panic swept through her making her knuckles turn white on the keys. The glint of a knife was caught by eyes hiding in the shadows. Before she could answer, she felt a sudden wind brush past her face, and then heard the unknown pursuer cry out in pain. "Aaaahh!" A crack and a thump followed, and then silence except for the normal city noises. She couldn't help but stop, wondering what just happened. Turning around, she cocked her head, listening. Nothing.
"Gabrielle?" The redhead spun back around when she heard her name called. She immediately felt the familiar person quickly approach. "Oh my god, Gabby, what took you so long? I've been worried. It's two hours past your usual arrival at home." Her older sister came rushing up to her with a strong embrace. "Honey, did something happen? Are you okay? Why are you just standing here?"
"I'm fine." Gabrielle let out the breath she didn't realize she was holding. "There was an unexpected meeting at the end of work. I should've called you, but I wasn't thinking."
"Well, let's go home. Dinner is ready. I'm so relieved you're alright."
"Lyra?" the redhead started as she loosened the grips on her keys and cane. "Is there anyone around us? Perhaps....lying on the ground?"
The older woman looked around and then back at her sister. "No. I don't see anyone. Why?"
"I'll tell you about it when we get home. Come on. I'm starved."
Lyra chuckled. "You always are."
Kaden set the marker down and leaned back in the cushioned black leather office chair. She looked over the colorful scenes one more time. She smiled, liking how the superhero mysteriously took out the woman's attacker before he had a chance to strike. Yawning once again, she felt proud with how this next issue of Tempest was playing out so far. Tired eyes scanned the last frame before shutting off the desk lamp for the night. The latest issue of the comic superhero was already on the shelves, and she was fervently working on the continued storyline in order to stay ahead. The digital atomic clock on the wall vividly displayed 11:04pm in teal blue characters right next to the very first poster; and the newest poster of Tempest herself. Kaden yawned as she walked out of her office. Another late night, and she needed to be at work early to receive her new scheduled route. Bare feet padded into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, she grabbed the carton of goat milk and proceeded to chug the remainder of it. She fingered the Tempest magnet on the fridge door and smiled. It was surrounded by a plethora of other heroines and masked figures. Fifteen years had come and gone quickly for the masked crusader since she first hit the shelves of comic book shops across the nation. Kaden remembered she was only sixteen when she first started developing this character, and it took three years to finally get recognized. The major publishing companies, at the time, didn't think Tempest was sexy enough to appeal to teenage boys or male comic fans in general. It was so disappointing, but deep down she knew that's not who Tempest was for. Tempest was meant for all children who needed a superhero in their lives ---- who needed someone to believe in; and Tempest was meant for women of all ages who needed courage, strength, and the understanding to stand up for themselves. Since its publication, Kaden has forever been grateful to the small company that saw the potential Tempest had to reach so many that needed her.
The clock was about to strike 10am when the sign in the window flipped to "OPEN." Jess unlocked the door and took a deep breath as she looked out the large store front windows. The place had been closed for a couple of weeks since her uncle's passing. Uncle Ted and Jessica had been close during her grade school years when she lived in this town, and while she was in college, but she had never thought her favorite uncle would bestow his business to her. It was a surprise when she received a copy of the Will along with a letter from the attorney.
Now Jess owned the comic book shop, and she looked forward to this new avenue in her life. It was in this very storefront where she was first introduced to her favorite character. She walked down the right aisle and stopped in front of the rack displaying the superhero she grew to love. Picking up an issue, she couldn't resist the smile that formed on her lips as she remembered the number of times Uncle Ted brought her with him.
"Is it here? Is it, Uncle Teddy?"
The big bear of a man chuckled. With a gleam in his sea green eyes, and a scratch of his scruffy brown beard, he pointed to the rack that held the new issue his niece had been waiting for.
Thirteen year old Jessica squealed with delight as she grabbed the magazine and held it to her chest. "This is the best!" She looked at the cover with glee. The character stood out wearing black leather pants tucked into black calf length Infinity Gore-Tex motorcycle touring boots. A matching black leather vest was zipped over a royal blue long sleeve shirt. A black leather gauntlet gloved hand rose high above the head of raven hair pulled back into a traditional chomage (Samurai topknot). The open hand drew down the lightning from the storm swirling in the sky, and then shot out that same bolt of lightning through the other hand at its intended target. Eyes that were never seen hid behind black and silver goggles with polycarbonate blue mirror lens. This was Tempest, her favorite hero amongst the very small handful she enjoyed.
"I will let you pick out three issues to take home. I just need your help first with cleaning out the storage room, okay?" He said in a deep baritone voice.
"Sure thing! But please let me pick out the issues now. Please?!"
He chuckled again. "Alright Squirt, you go ahead."
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Jessica sang, sprinting down the aisles to find the other two comic books that she already knew she had to have.
Jess smiled again as the memories floated by. As she placed the magazine back, she caught her reflection in the store front window. Absently her fingers brushed across the jagged scar along the left side of her face that ran from the temple to her jaw line. You have a different life now. Let go of the past. She thought to herself as she walked back to the main counter. She was glad Teddy had entrusted her with the treasure of his store, and she was determined to make him proud.
The dark brown UPS truck turned right on Walnut. Kaden briefly looked at the GPS program on her phone as it spouted out, "Your destination is on your left." It was going to take her a couple of days to get used to this new route. She was so used to the south side of town and making frequent trips to J City that this downtown area seemed a little foreign to her. Even when she wasn't working, downtown visits were few and far in between. She spotted the quaint shop with its maroon and tan faux siding and the little balcony just above the main entrance. Kaden double parked the truck in the middle of the small street, and then looked over the delivery chart to check the recipient's name and the number of items to be delivered. Grabbing the two boxes, she hopped out, standing to her full height. The tall, solidly built raven haired driver pushed open the half paned glass door. The bell chimed announcing her presence.
A young woman sitting behind the counter on a stool with her head buried in a comic book looked up. She pushed the plastic black framed glasses up the bridge of her nose. Sandra didn't realize she was staring at the UPS driver like an idiot until the heavy boxes were set down on the counter with a thump. The digital tablet and stylus were handed to her to sign. "Sorry, I'll have to get Jess to sign." She awkwardly stumbled as she got off the stool and made her way through the partially open doorway behind her. "Hey Jess, there's a really hot UPS person with a package for you," she whispered with a smirk.
Green eyes looked up from her paperwork. "Is that all you think about?" she asked with a chuckle.
"I can't help that I notice these things," Sandra responded as she returned to the counter.
The short blonde emerged behind her, fascinated with the tall stoic figure wearing dark sunglasses and patiently waiting. Wow, Sandra's right. "Didn't mean to keep you waiting. I'll sign for the package."
"No problem." Wow, she's beautiful. Those brilliant green eyes could entrap anyone. The driver silently thought.
For weeks Kaden made consistent deliveries to the comic shop, and each time, she didn't fail to have her sunglasses in place along with a barely noticeable smile. "Hey," the quirky young Sandra softly stated from behind the counter. "She's not here right now, though I had already expected her back." Sandra pushed her black framed glasses up her nose while looking at the clock on the wall. "Do you mind waiting a few minutes, since she's got to sign?"
Kaden looked at the time on her Android phone. "Alright," she casually stated. She took the opportunity to look around the shop at the various comic figures, posters, t-shirts, and magazines. Suddenly the front door chimed. She peeked over the top shelf to find the short blonde in a suit skirt, carrying a small brown briefcase. An inky black eyebrow rose up Kaden's forehead at the sight of the skirt and heels. Damn she looks good. I wouldn't mind hiking that skirt up and sliding my hands.... What am I thinking? Cool your jets Kaden. She let out a silent sigh as she continued to watch. She couldn't stop the evident smile which spread from ear to ear, and she was grateful it was hidden behind the Star Wars jet fighter on the shelf. God she looks delicious. Okay, okay stop. She shook her head as if to clear it as she started down the side aisle.
"Grrr, that damn board makes me so mad sometimes." Jess grumbled.
"What happened this time?" Sandra asked.
"They don't want to vote on the proposal to allow a couple of trained assistance dogs to come visit the kids to help boost morale and actually attempt to reach a few of them who have become so withdrawn and depressed." She slammed the case on the counter. "Sometimes I feel like I waste my time there."
"You know you don't. Those kids love you. Your work is important to them."
"By the way, UPS is here. I asked her to wait for you to return."
Excited by seeing the mysterious driver again, Jess spun around to find Kaden waltzing up to them. "I'm sorry you've been waiting. I hope it wasn't long." She took the tablet to sign. "Thank you for sticking around," she commented with a warm smile. For a moment she thought she saw the corners of the tall woman's mouth turn up.
"No problem. It gave me something to look at." Kaden answered with a toothy grin, and then turned to walk out.
Amber eyebrows furrowed. As the little bell on the door chimed, Jess repeated the comment, "It gave me something to look at??" Eyeing Sandra, she asked, "What do you think was meant by that?"
"I don't know. Maybe she found a comic that interested her." Sandra pushed up her glasses for the hundredth time today. "She sure is hot though ---- in an enigmatic sort of way. You know, I never see her without those shades on her face."
"Yeah, that is interesting. Hmm."
At the end of the week, Kaden returned to the shop with another delivery. Checking the time on her phone, she was glad this was the final package for her shift. She was interested in returning to her writing after coming across an odd character earlier today that would make a great nemesis to her current story. It was just a few minutes before the shop closed, so she popped right in and was surprised Sandra wasn't behind the counter deep in another comic book. She took a peek down the aisle on her left and then on the right. There was no one in sight. Her keen hearing suddenly picked up the sound of sniffling. Quietly walking right up to the counter, she noticed the door to the back room was ajar. From the faint sounds, she could tell that someone was in there crying. Stepping behind the counter, she gently pushed the door further open to find Jess sitting at an old and very worn wooden desk with papers in one hand, and Kleenex in the other. Her face was red and eyes were swollen.
Suddenly startled sea green eyes looked up. "Oh my god, why didn't you announce yourself?"
Surprised, Kaden said, "I'm sorry, I thought you heard the door chime. I didn't mean to intrude. I have a box for you." She raised the item in question.
The blonde blew her nose again and then got up to sign for it.
Kaden felt really bad for the shorter woman. Curiosity getting the better of her, she noticed that one of the papers that was put down had a military seal at the top of it. "Is there something I can do for you?" she asked in all sincerity. "I mean, would you like someone to talk to? I've been told I'm a good listener." She ended with a toothy grin.
It's the second time Jess saw the tall woman actually have a facial expression. Captivated by the warmth of that smile, she hesitantly said, "I....I don't want to seem rude, but we don't even know each other. I mean....you can't possibly want to hear my sob story."
The tall UPS driver leaned against the doorframe with arms folded across her chest. "If I didn't want to hear it, then I wouldn't offer," she said softly. Kaden felt very drawn to the hurting woman, and couldn't understand why. She balled her hands into fists to stop herself from wrapping her arms around the strawberry-blonde in a protective and comforting embrace. "Sometimes, talking to a stranger is the best thing because they don't already have a biased opinion on the matter. I really don't mind. You seem very upset, and I just want to help."
Jess stared at her and realized that perhaps the woman may be right. She also realized that she could really use a friend right now, and maybe this was the opportunity for it. "Okay, well, what about you being on duty?" She pointed to the brown uniform.
With another toothy grin, the tall woman said, "I can meet you in one hour. Do you like sushi? We can go to Geisha House on Fifth."
"I actually love sushi. I know the place." She extended her hand for a shake. "I'm Jess, as I'm sure you know from all the packages delivered."
"My name is Kaden." She gladly took the offered hand surprised at the tingling sensation that passed between them. "One hour then."
"I find it interesting that you're wearing shades while we're sitting here. In fact, you switched to a lighter pair than the ones I'm used to seeing, but still, you're wearing sunglasses indoors."
"I have a light sensitivity," Kaden casually commented, and then finished under her breath, "It's an ocular condition."
Jess' eyebrows furrowed with curiosity. "What's the condition?"
The raven haired woman was surprised that what she muttered was heard. Uncomfortable with talking about it, she cleared her throat trying to think of something to change the topic.
"Would you please tell me?" Jess softly questioned.
Kaden found she was unable to resist that cherubic face that looked at her so innocently. "Uhh...it's called complete heterochromia iridis." She took a swig of the Ichiban beer, and then finished, "Basically my eyes are scary." She then tenderly asked, "So, would you like to share with me why you were crying earlier?"
"Hold on," Jess abruptly interjected. "You keep the glasses on because you claim your eyes are scary?! I'm sorry, but have you not seen my face? There's a huge scar that takes up this whole side, if you haven't noticed. What would you think if I kept my face hidden?"
Kaden had not expected the fiery statement which came out of this woman. She smiled inwardly, but kept her outward deadpan expression. Maybe one day I'll show you and hopefully you won't run like others have. "My eyes are still sensitive. It's better to have the shades on."
Jess shook her head in disbelief deciding to give up on the argument for the time being. As she dug into her rainbow roll, she couldn't but wonder what could possibly be so terrible about the woman's eyes that would be worse than the scar she's had to live with seeing these past couple of years. She wished she could see the eyes behind those damn frames, but it seemed that the stoic woman didn't want to discuss it right now. People's eyes always fascinated Jess. She believed that in one way they truly were the windows to the soul. There was so much she could tell from someone's eyes, and most often the people she was drawn to were the ones who had a warmth and depth to them. Jess pushed at a piece of sushi with the chopsticks. Not wanting to ruin a possibly good evening with a potential new friend, she tried to figure out how to avoid the topic of her crying earlier.
"Jessica?" The blonde's head popped up as sea green eyes searched for the voice that called her name. A stocky older woman in her fifties stepped up to their table with an older man in tow. "Jessica Reznick, it is you!" The woman declared with a plastered smile. "Look at how grown up you are. Harold, you remember Jessica --- who won that pageant in 98?"
"Hello, Mrs. Druthers," Jess responded unexcitedly. "It's been a long time." She noticed immediately that the woman's obvious stare was on her facial scar.
"Oh, when we had heard from your late uncle, God rest his soul, of what happened when you were in the military, why it just turned my stomach. Why you ever joined to begin with is beyond me. Oh what a shame those doctors didn't do more to restore that beautiful face you had. You were the sweetheart of the whole county..."