June 24, 2011

Heartbeats and Heroes

(Sorry to do this two times in a row. Scraps coming tomorrow or Sunday.)

Mitchell Schubert isn't exactly a shining picture of health. Ever since he was a kid, he's had what he calls "random heartbeat attacks". The adults call it AVNRT because it's very grown-up to use a weird acronym.

Kids used to call him a beanpole in school, because that's what he looked like. Well, a redheaded beanpole. Add to the fact that he wears glasses and a medical alert bracelet, and you have yourself a recipe for bullying.

Jack doesn't really care how much Mitchell yelled about his random heartbeat attacks. Mitchell's a tiny thing, and tiny things are fun to push around and knock about behind the school. Also, he is pretty sure that Mitchell made the whole thing up to get out of gym.

Mitchell figures that Ace must be his guardian angel when he shows up.

"Hey, jerkoff!" Ace adjusts his baseball cap. Tufts of dirty blonde hair stick out from under the brim. "Leave him alone!"

Jack smirks and pushes Mitchell away. Mitchell seizes the opportunity to whip out his medicine, taking it quickly to stop the palpitations.

Jack steps towards Ace. "Or what?"

Ace clenches his fists together. "I'ma make you pay."

Jack raises an eyebrow and pushes Mitchell to the ground. Ace runs at him, right hand in the air and ready to make contact, but he freezes when Jack grabs his wrist. "Stupid move."

Ace doesn't miss a beat. He drives his left fist into Jack's nose, bloodying it. Jack staggers back, and Ace smirks. "I'm ambidextrous, nimrod."

Jack wipes some of the blood from his nose and stares at it. He doesn't seem to know how to react, so he only gives the other two an uncertain look before threatening, "I'm gonna get you guys!" and trying to swagger off. The swagger is off.

Ace snorts. Then he notices that Mitchell is sprawled out on the ground, red-faced and sweaty. "You OK?" he asks. "You don't look so good."

Mitchell guesses he doesn't. "I'm fine… j-just chillin'…" he says, hoping the other boy would just drop the topic. He bites his lip. "Why'd you do that?"

Ace falls quiet as he sits down next to Mitchell, putting a fair amount of space between them. "People who… who hit other people should know what it's like. They should have a taste of their own medicine." He tugs at the bottom of his long shirtsleeves.

Mitchell looks at him, feeling like he was missing something. "Oh. 'Kay." He holds out one of his hands. "My name's Mitchell."

Ace grins. "Ace." He takes Mitchell's hand. "You stick with me, kid. We're gonna be just fine."

Mitchell hasn't seen his best friend's eyes since they were fourteen years old. Ace has been doing a good job the past three and a half years hiding them behind a huge pair of aviators. He doesn't even take them off in class, which Mitchell thinks is ridiculous. On the other hand, it's impressive that the teachers let him get away with it.

And it wasn't like he hadn't tried to find out why Ace had kept the shades on for so long. The guy has an annoying talent for changing the topic every time Mitchell brings it up. So Mitchell is a little surprised when Ace brings it up himself.

"You know how I've been wearing these awesome aviators for like… forever?" Ace leans against Mitchell's piano, fiddling with the keys but not playing any distinct melody.

Mitchell raises an eyebrow. "Um, yeah."

"And you know how I'm like, always here or at work or somewhere? And how I never let you in my house for long?" The piano keys plunk in discord.

"Get to the point, man."

Plunk. Plunk-plunk. "Phht. 'K, don't freak out on me, bro." Ace takes hold of the glasses, and he slowly pulls them off. A long, thick scar traces the bottom of his left eye. It's the most noticeable thing in the world. "Yeah. It's bad, I know."

Mitchell can't help but stare. "Um… what? What happened? I don't…"

Ace just stares at him. "Think about it, Mitchell. Do I really need to spell this out for you?"

Mitchell grapples with what this could mean. Then it hits him like so many refrigerators full of horror, if that was a thing. "Oh my God. Ace. You… you mean… your parents?" He touches his own left eye.

"My dad." Ace plunks at the keys some more. "So yeah." He swallows. "That's kinda what the thing with the maps is about."

What? Wait. What. "Oh you moron. You complete dumb – ffffh." Mitchell can feel his heartbeat beginning to quicken, but it's no cause for alarm yet. "You are not running away. That's the stupidest thing you've ever thought of! And for that matter, why didn't you ever tell anyone that this – " he makes some wild motion around his eye – "was happening? You coulda gotten out of there! Why the hell would you stay? Obviously you don't give a crap about your family, so what's there to lose?"

Ace stares at him with angry grey eyes, but he is so calm. "Mitchell, calm down. You're stressing yourself out." He puts a hand on Mitchell's shoulder and forces him to sit down.

Mitchell glares at him. "I can't believe you're just going to up and disappear. This your idea of a goodbye, you jerk?"

"Dude, would you just calm down so you don't have heart failure or something?" Ace says this more snappishly than intended. "…Sorry."

Mitchell sighs and nods. "I'm calm. My heart is AO-flippin'-K." He closes his eyes tightly. "No heart failure up in here."

"Good." Ace sits down next to him. "Cuz you should come with me. Y'know. To Washington and be basically Canadian." He smiles a little when Mitchell opens one eye to see if he's serious. "I'm so serious, dude."

"Oh." Mitchell opens both eyes and stares ahead. "So we're like… road-tripping it up now like some Fellowship of the Specs, right?" He smiles and holds out his fist.

Ace pounds it. "For sure."

June 22, 2011

This is what I've been doing.*

*Well, sorta. Wrote this ages ago. Just continuing it now.

Psychology, Cartography

Ace is eighteen and still hasn’t completely grown into his own body. He’s made up for it by growing well into his mind and everybody else’s. Just because he sells fruit doesn’t make him any less of a psychologist. And just to make sure nobody else can get into his head, he keeps on a pair of aviators.

That’s his superhero name, by the way. Aviators.

He volunteers for more shifts than anybody else, and if they won’t give him any extra shifts, he’ll hang around the place anyway. It’s not like he has the best job in the world. He just works the register. It’s like being stuck on repeat.

He is so tired of being stuck on repeat.

Shea works with him on almost every shift. She cannot fathom why he is almost always there. “Are you seriously here? Again? Dontcha have a life, you loser?” Shea actually believes that honesty is the best policy. Funny how quiet she gets if anyone asks her about that eye patch, though.

Yeah, maybe there are other places that Ace could be. But being closer to work means getting more shifts, which means getting a little farther and further away from his house. And shoot, anything that gets him away from there is all right in Ace’s book.

“Don’t you ever go home, bro? It’s like you’re either here or at school or at my house. All the time.” Mitchell thinks he’s so hilarious. He has no idea how dead-on that statement is. Ace doesn’t think he’s actually seen his biological family in two solid days.


“You caught me, dude. I am totally trying to find a way to secretly move into your house without you realizing it.” Mitchell laughs. He has no idea Ace wasn’t kidding.

When he was younger, he used to fantasize about taking off in the dead of night. No warnings, no notes, no nothing – a clean break. Except if he did, then who’d end up saving Mitchell from getting shoved into lockers?

Mitchell has no idea what it’s really like at home. Ace is too proud to admit that he needs a hero, too. So he settles for finding excuses to not go back. He gets weird looks and awkward questions about it on a regular basis, but that’s fine.

Everybody will be asking a different set of questions soon enough.

Before he was twelve and needed to save his best friend’s skinny behind at every turn, he collected maps and taped them up in his room like wallpaper. Every night, he would trace the paths from his house to any number of anywhere-elses.

Canada sounds nice, but he doesn’t have a passport. He guesses Washington will do. Washington is basically Canada.

“You should be in cartography,” Mitchell says when he first sees all the maps. Then he realizes he rhymed and laughs.

Ace shrugs. “Whatcha think of Washington, bro?” He’s casual. There’s no ulterior motive behind this question, not at all.

“Dunno.” Mitchell sniffs. “It’s Washington.”

“It’s basically Canada.”

Mitchell chuckles and nods.

“You ever wanna be basically Canadian?”


Then Ace realizes that his dad’s going to be home and smoothly suggests they relocate – so smoothly that it’s completely awkward. Mitchell notices, of course. He’s only ever been to Ace’s house a couple times in the seven years they’ve known each other, and both times have been brief.

When they relocate to Mitchell’s house, Ace figures it’s time to be straight with him. He pulls off the aviators. Mitchell is shocked, of course. He always thought the glasses had been worn for dramatic effect. Not to hide… that.

Yeah. It’s bad, Ace knows. “That’s kinda what the thing with the maps is about.”

It takes Mitchell a second to figure it out. Then he’s worried and angry and depressed all at one time. Ace has never heard his best friend yell like that. It’s kind of impressive, but it makes sense. Mitchell is a redhead.

When he quiets down, Ace tells him his idea. They’re eighteen, they’re out of school in two days, and they have mobility.

Mitchell’s pretty bright. And he’s pretty up for adventure. Ace guesses that’s why they’re best friends.

So two days later when Shea and Ace close down shop, Ace tries to be extra nice to her. He’s sorry about that eye patch, by the way. Shea is suspicious, but doesn’t question the change in attitude.

“See ya tomorrow, Ace.” She leaves him behind.

Ace smiles to himself. “No you won’t.”