“Can you believe that all this time I’ve had superhuman senses and I didn’t even realize it? I mean, I guess it’s easy to overlook, what with my emotional violation being especially weird, but I don’t get how it never occurred to me even once.”
I sit on the floor in front of the couch, waiting for Ezra’s response as he shovels Oreos into his mouth. Eating dinner together on a Saturday night is a rare occasion, but I also made homemade mac and cheese and salad with a dressing Ezra raved about. Cooking things from scratch is practically unheard of with my work and school schedule, but I’ve been so upbeat since I got the small check from Pneumatikon that I decided to exhale for a night.
Ezra snorts. “I realize you’re a little unobservant, but in your defense, you’ve only really had the super duper senses in the last year or so.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, confused.
Ezra gives me a derisive look. “Really?”
When I don’t reply, he says, “Wow. Okay, so make that exceptionally unobservant. You haven’t noticed how much more you can hear now than you used to? All these years I thought I pretty much had your range figured out, but seriously Wen, your hearing ability has increased. Remember that day I was talking with Nate outside, and you heard him tell me to hook him up with you? I was sure that you hadn’t heard him, but then I came inside and you were all like ‘Eeew Ezra, keep that geeky loser away from me!’”
I roll my eyes, making a face at his mimicry. “I know I didn’t say it like that.”
“Yeah, that’s not the point. We were standing outside and down the stairs, not outside the door.” Ezra gives me an expectant look.
“On the second floor landing?”
“Negatory. I mean the base of the stairs, the first floor. That’s through a door and down two flights of stairs. And I was standing beside Nate’s car while it was running, and that piece of junk is not quiet.”
I narrow my eyes. “Are you sure? And I haven’t always heard that well? Maybe the window was open.”
“No, Wen. I’ve had it down like a science. I could always be sure that if there were at least three insulated walls between us, or two walls and loud music, you wouldn’t overhear me. That day rewrote the rules. Trust me, you hear things now that I never would have thought you could.”
“So what about my vision?” I ask.
“I wouldn’t know as well, but in the few times I’ve thought about it, you’ve seen farther away than ever. Remember that day when you picked me up from the mall and you pointed out that girl coming out of the other department store entrance? It was way over a football field away and you were telling me how cute she was? I couldn’t see squat but you just went on and on about every detail of what she was wearing, including the words on her shirt? I’ve been pretty aware of what you could see, but that blew me away. You have never been able to see that well. You’ve always had good vision, good hearing, but not that good.”
“So a year then? I’ve only been hearing and seeing this well for a year?”
“I started noticing sometime after Mom got sick. A year and a half maybe? But who knows how long before then it started improving.”
“I am so dense,” is all I can think of to say. I stand up and head over to start the dishes. Ezra picks up one of his comic books.
The improved eyesight is definitely weird. Having Type 1 Diabetes has had me expecting that my vision would eventually deteriorate, but to think it has gotten better is just… bizarre “Why didn’t you say anything?” I ask after a minute.
“You never made a big deal out of it before, and I thought maybe you had always heard that well and were holding out on me. Plus, there were other things going on…”
There certainly were other things going on. Like Mom dying. Like gaining guardianship of Ezra.
“Why would it improve?” I ask, intending the question rhetorically but hoping Ezra has some insight anyway. How have I not noticed?
“You got me.”
I look behind me at Ezra absorbed in his comic book. Sometimes he can make connections so quickly it boggles my mind, but he’s pretty selective about engaging his brain. Maybe it’s an overabundance of comic books or maybe it’s just the curse of being a teenager, but he isn’t naturally inquisitive about most things. Even the origin of superhuman abilities, apparently.
I lean over the sink, absentmindedly scrubbing and pondering the possibilities. The problem is I don’t know where to start. I go over the last couple years in my head to pinpoint times I should have caught on to changes in my senses. But you just don’t notice stuff like that, at least not right off, not without someone pointing it out like Ezra just has.
Furthermore, when I think about the past, all I can remember are a few poignant details along a timeline of blended moments: the smell of Ezra’s hair—he’d lay his head on my shoulder while we watched a movie together after getting news from the doctor; the pattern of the pastel, multi-colored, one-inch tiles of the bathroom wall in the old apartment we had when Mom was still alive; the weight of the hospital room door in my hand; the tempo of Mom’s labored breathing that was always the same speed whenever I visited; and her face that changed completely as the cancer faded the life from her features… It upsets me still that when I think of her I remember most readily the frail face rather than the healthy one from my childhood. It’s like the cancer also infected the memory I have of her.
Since her death, I literally have not stopped at all to think about anything but how to pay my next bill. How can I possibly be upset at myself for not doing a systems check?
I wipe my eyes, dry my hands, and retrieve the other white envelope that I’ve been meaning to talk to Ezra about.
I’m nervous. I’ve been nervous about showing the letter to Ezra since this past Tuesday when I first read it, which is probably why I’ve put it off this long. “So you are never going to believe who I got a letter from,” I say, sitting on the couch next to him, the paper clutched in my hand.
I notice just now that the comic book he’s reading is an issue of Superman-Batman. I snort. Ezra picked that one out on purpose. When I told him all about the vision and hearing tests Dina gave me, we kind of got off on a superhero tangent. Ezra said I was like Superman, and he’s like Batman with all the smarts.
“Batgirl?” he answers from behind the pages.
I snort with laughter. Then I grab his comic book away and punch him in the gut.
“C’mon! I’m serious! Aren’t you even a little curious?” I taunt, holding the letter up with two fingers and waving it in the air.
Ezra snatches his comic book back and gives me a bored look, but his eyes shift to the paper in my hand. “Only if some long lost relative left us a big inheritance.”
His answer is so close to the truth that I examine the paper in my fingers like maybe I missed the part about the inheritance. “You got half of it right.”
“What?” Ezra sits up abruptly and grabs the letter from me before I can react.
I watch his eyes move across the page and then narrow, widen, and finally stop moving as he reaches the end of the letter.
“So what do you think? You want to meet this guy?” I ask.
Ezra scans the page again. “Is there actually a choice? Looks like he’s pretty serious.”
“Well, we could always move under cover of night into a cash-only motel and change our names,” I say, grinning. “Isn’t that what superheroes do? Get secret identities?” I pause a moment when a new, more serious possibility comes to me. “You don’t have superpowers, do you? I mean, maybe this is genetic or something and you have some kind of ability? Like being super genius,” I say, remembering how brilliant he is in math.
Ezra rolls his eyes. “Being a math genius isn’t considered a superpower.”
I roll my eyes back at him. “You would know, I suppose, since you’ve done such in-depth research.”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway. Yes, I think we should meet him. Maybe he’s not trustworthy, but maybe he’s serious. Maybe he just wants to help. Mom didn’t say much about him, and I would think that if he was a real danger she would have said so before she died. Like, ‘Stay away from your uncle’ or something.” Ezra stares at the paper. “I’m really curious.”
“Yeah,” I say as casually as possible, propping my elbow on the back of the worn blue couch. “You probably haven’t considered the fact that we’re barely scraping by… and I can hardly afford to buy you new clothes. He seems to have some bizarre interest in us already. What if…?” I don’t want to say it out loud for fear of making it a more real possibility.
Ezra’s eyes flash with quick recognition. Of course. Genius that he is. “You think he wants me to live with him? He wouldn’t!” he says, distressed. “I wouldn’t go! He can’t make me; I would stay here with you!”
I scoot next to him and deliberately link my arm in his. Ezra’s angst jars my chest uncomfortably but it relieves my worry.
Then I say exactly what I decided earlier when this possibility occurred to me, “We don’t know what he wants, but it doesn’t matter. We’re staying together. The guy hasn’t been around our whole lives. That’s got to count for something, right?”
Ezra becomes a bit more hopeful. He struggles to gain a hold of his worry and think about it.
“Besides,” I say soothingly, “If that’s actually his goal, and the worst happens, I’m going wherever you are; he won’t be able to get rid of me.”
He calms finally, and relief that emanates through his skin invigorates me. I exhale as he relaxes. I don’t deserve a brother like Ezra. He is so loyal. His immediate change of mood jives exactly with his personality. He gets riled up easily like me but he is more forgiving of people—he can let things go. I hold grudges. And I love to be angry.
Ezra wants to live with me, not someone else. Until now, I hadn’t realized how much I worried that he would choose this other, better-off family member over me. That’s why I touched his skin; I wanted to be sure of what he wanted.
I should have known. Ezra just isn’t me. I probably would have wished for a long lost uncle to take me in at his age. Ezra doesn’t complain. Only I do that. I wonder with trepidation what my life would be like if I didn’t have Ezra counting on me and believing in me. I would fail. I would fail miserably. I’ve been so close to failing already. Losing Ezra would launch me into the deep end.
I am going to be royally pissed if this guy tries to take away the one person that matters to me.
“Let’s get this over with,” I say after a moment, getting up to retrieve my cell phone.
I punch in the number, put it on speaker, and sit next to Ezra again. I can tell he’s nervous, but so am I. The phone rings only twice, and then a pleasant male voice answers brightly, “Robert here.”
Determined not to sound concerned, I delve in, “Hi, this is Wendy Whitley. I got a letter from you saying you wanted to talk to me?” Straight to the point.
“Yes! Wendy! It’s so good to hear from you,” Robert says. “I hope I didn’t startle you too much when you received my letter. I can understand if it was a bit… odd.”
“Oh, no, we’re accustomed to getting cryptic letters,” I reply.
Robert chuckles. “So then you’ll allow me to meet you?”
I want to say no, he’s not allowed, but that probably won’t go over well. “Sure, Ezra and I are open to whatever you have in mind—you know, as far as meeting you, that is,” I add, worried he might take ‘whatever you have in mind’ too literally. “Family is family, right?”
“Absolutely,” he says enthusiastically. My eyes narrow. I don’t know why, but I don’t like this guy. “I understand you’re in school, and I don’t want to interrupt your studies. I would be glad to come to you if that would work out better for your schedule.”
“No, no,” I say, looking around my sparse and messy apartment. “We can come to you. Monterey isn’t that far of a drive. And this semester is over in a week anyway.” The whole thing is actually pretty convenient. I had already requested a week’s vacation from work after the Spring semester—I planned it that way to give me some time to recharge before summer classes start. Besides, I am not having this man visit me in my apartment, making judgments about my ability to care for Ezra.
“Smart girl,” he adds appreciatively. I don’t know how to translate the meaning behind that. Hopefully it’s because he knows I figured out where he lives based on his phone number and place of business. He continues, “I won’t hear of it though. I’ll book a flight for you and your brother. Would a week from today be okay then? What day would you need to return?”
“That’s fine. And we can fly back on Sunday. Ezra will still have school,” I reply, grateful for Robert’s offer. He must have money. I don’t want to think about what gas would cost me to get all the way up to Monterey and back.
“Wonderful! I’ll e-mail you the itinerary when I have it if you will give me your e-mail address,” he replies pleasantly.
I relay it to him and we hang up with cordial goodbyes. I look over at Ezra who looks back at me anxiously.
“Well?” he says.
“I don’t like him.”
Ezra exhales tediously. “Of course you don’t. He’s too excited. Too nice. Too old. Too rich. Too generous. He probably drives a car you don’t like. Wears the wrong color tie. Plus, everyone knows Monterey is full of cocky rich people, right?”
“Hmph. Like you would know.”
“What would you like him to be? Rude?”
“At least if he was rude I’d know where I stand.”
“Yes… And all our questions would be answered then?”
I scoot back to the floor and sigh, letting my head fall back on the seat of the couch. “No, I’d probably dislike him then, too.”