Damnit, I overslept. I wake up to the sun hitting my face and a text from my best friend Boston asking where I’m at. Boston’s going out of town for two weeks to celebrate his birthday with his dad and sister, and I was supposed to meet him in his treehouse to give him his present and say goodbye.
“Be there in ten,” I write back.
“Knock, knock,” my brother Max says, opening my bedroom door gradually until half his body is in my bedroom. “You got a minute?”
Still half asleep, I close my eyes and let my head fall back on my pillow. “I’ve got ten.”
Max takes a seat on the corner of my bed. I can feel him watching me, and my suspicions are confirmed when I pop one eye open. He laughs.
“Man, you’re a wreck,” he tells me. “What’s keeping you up at night lately?”
I don’t know why, but I’m always so certain that he must know about my moonlighting as Empathy. He has a good intuition about these things. But if he did know, it would be met with so much opposition. Max is too logical. Becoming a hero is considered reckless to him.
He didn’t shut up for months about how foolish the Action Team was for working without the city’s consent. He finally came around to liking them as soon as they teamed up with the Angel City Police Department.
So yeah, he’d be pissed that I’m doing this without anybody’s consent.
“What do you want to talk about?” I yawn.
“It’s about the Academy,” Max starts. He adjusts himself so he’s facing me. “Natalia, something really important is about to happen. And I need you to know what it is so that you’re prepared.”
Okay, now I’m awake. I know Max has kept in touch with some of the researchers on Project 451, I think out of hope that the government would give them more funding so they could continue the project. I’ve been dreading the day that Max informs me that we’re going back to basecamp. Please tell me today isn’t the day.
“I’ve been in touch with a few of the scientists, and it looks like–”
“There you two are.”
Max and I turn to Alyse, who’s standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. She hates it when we “twin up without her,” as she refers to it. She already feels like the outcast since she’s the only Morales sibling that didn’t get accepted into Project 451. She was too young to apply, though. If I could go back in time, I’d gladly switch places with her. While I’m grateful for my abilities, I hated Academy. It was too competitive and strict. Eventually, I got the sense that we weren’t being trained to protect our country, but rather, to control it.
Max sighs, probably upset that our conversation has been interrupted. Despite his disappointment, he gives Alyse a cordial smile. “What’s up, Alyse?”
“Aunt Rosa’s wrangling us for breakfast,” she says, stepping further into my bedroom and plopping herself down on my bed beside Max. “She’s polling everyone on where we want to go. Prima already said, ‘wherever you wanna go is fine, Mom.’”
I laugh as I get out of bed. Alyse is really good at impersonations, I feel like I should be paying her to hear them. She used to do a flawless Mom and Dad, but we don’t do those impressions anymore.
She eyes the magazine on my nightstand and says, “Oh, the new issue of Teen Pulse came in.”
I got a yearly subscription of Teen Pulse for free when I ordered some clothes online a couple of months ago. I should have addressed it to Alyse, though. I’m not even the one who reads those silly things. But she devours gossip magazines the way bookworms read novels.
Max, always the considerate sibling, shifts toward Alyse to loop her into the conversation. “Ten bucks Aunt Rosa will want to take us to that Thai place she loves so much. For the third time this week,” he says, his eyes bulging at the thought of another night of white rice.
“The problem with Simply Thai is that it is simply Thai,” Alyse says, flipping through the advertisements in the beginning of the magazine. Every couple of pages, she’ll pause to open the perfume flap and sniff it. “Plus, it isn’t a breakfast spot at all. I mean, why can’t they have burgers and fries and boba and doughnuts like Top Burger? Now that is a restaurant.”
“Doesn’t that place have a B health rating?” I say.
Max snorts. “That is so bougie of you, Alyse.”
“Conventional is boring and you know it, Max.” Alyse gives Max a big whack on the hip with her foot. “Besides, a B is still passing.”
“Tell that to Aunt Rosa,” Max scoffs.
Alyse rolls her eyes, but she remains mum. Any talk about Aunt Rosa and grades shuts her up real fast. “So what were you guys talking about?” She looks up at us with curious, puppy dog eyes.
“I was just briefing Natalia about the future of Project Four-Fifty-One.” He nudges me and says, “We’ll pick up later, okay?”
Alyse groans. “I never get to be a part of the peace officer talk.”
“Trust me, it’s not interesting,” I say, Heading to my dresser and pulling out some clothes. I’m sure I’ll still have time to change before we leave for breakfast. It always takes us over an hour to leave anyway.
Alyse brings the magazine up to her face, then lets out a big sigh filled with fantasy and seduction. “I’ve decided Iron Whip is my new superhero crush.”
She holds up the page she’s on to a spread of Iron Whip in a suit that looks new, or one the magazine had him wear
specifically for the spread. It’s black with touches of silver, and he’s got black war paint over his eyes. His blonde hair is long and stringy, which I
personally find unattractive. I’m into clean-cut guys. Alyse has always liked the bad boy type. They’re a lot like her.
“Jesus,” Max gags. It’s unsurprising that he’s anything but impressed. Max prefers the next-door look himself.
Except he is the boy next door. Everyone thinks so.
I step into my walk-in closet and close the doors enough so I can change and still be a part of the conversation.
“Listen to this article,” Alyse
says, flipping a page away from the spread. She clears her throat. “Earlier this year, a team of heroes with
superhuman abilities emerged in Angel City. First, Captain Force and Iron Whip,
but they were eventually joined by two others, Inspiro and Electrona.”
Alyse pauses, staring at what must be a picture of the entire team.
“Electrona’s boobs are so freaking fake.”
Alyse is ridiculously passionate about the Action Team. They’re all anyone our age has talked about this year.
The band of heroes that keep our once crime-ridden city safe, also happen to be young heartthrobs. We may not be able to see their faces under the masks they wear, but boy, do they reek of sex appeal.
When I step out of the closet, Alyse says, “Look at the beads of sweat cascading down her jugs,” and holds up the
single page where Captain Force, my personal favorite, has his arms wrapped
around Electrona in an embrace. He’s tall and not overly muscular. Just the right amount of shredded, as
Alyse likes to call it. His jawline is gentle, but defined. He’s beautiful. In every sense of the word.
“Stop talking like that, Alyse,” Max
says, but his gaze is one hundred percent on Electrona’s sweat-laden rack. “You sound like an erotic novel.”
“If Alyse wrote a crappy romance novel, I’d buy it.”
“Thank you, Natalia.”