CHAPTER FIVE
AN EXPECTED PARTY,
AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE

     The days rolled on and Scott found himself waking to his birthday before he knew it. Summer vacation had started, and he was more than ready for the long mornings of relaxing in bed, followed by the drawn out days that ended with the short evenings of training and maybe even some crime fighting missions.
Scott sat up, stretching for a moment then he got out of bed. Although he looked forward to the mornings in bed, this was one day he was very eager about.
     He got together his clothes for the day, choosing his orange t-shirt and gray cargo shorts for the warm weather and special occasion. Once gathered up into his arms, he left his room and headed for the shower. He could hear his mom already in the kitchen washing dishes. His dad had to go to work but would be taking off early, in time for the party. Only his closest friends were invited. Of course he was already fairly attached to Demitri and Matthew, it just wouldn’t quite work to have them over. How, when, and where they met, why he hadn’t mentioned them before… finding a way to answer those questions—which his parents would surely ask—would be far too difficult, so he just blotted out the thought of having them over completely. Besides, he hadn’t mentioned his birthday’s near arrival to them. Not to his recollection, at least.
     Scott got the water for his shower running and tossed his clean clothes up on the towel rack, leaving his pajamas in the floor.
     With any luck, I’ll be inking in the first chapter of my comic tonight or tomorrow, he thought to himself as he checked the water’s temperature with his hand. Jason’s a good artist. I wonder if he’d want to help with it, he pondered as he stepped under the steady spray of hot water.
When he finished showering and getting dressed, he went into the kitchen to find his mom starting a batch of pancakes.
     “Good morning and happy birthday, Scott!” his mom greeted cheerfully as she used a ladle to pour the batter carefully into the frying pan. She then set the bowl and ladle aside, picking an envelope up from the counter and handing it to Scott. “This came in the mail for you from Grandma and Grandpa Allen!”
     “Oh, sweet. Maybe they sent some money,” he said as he took it.
     “Or maybe it’s a nice card,” his mom said in a disapproving sort of way.
     “Well yeah,” he smiled sheepishly as he opened it up and pulled out the green and white card. He caught what came fluttering out from inside it. “Hey look, money!” he grinned while he held it up to show his mother who was back to cooking.
     “You can add that to what Grandma Mays sent you,” she remarked.
     “Yep,” he agreed while tucking the money into his pocket. He then opened the card and read.
     “All right, why don’t you go get a plate? These are almost done,” his mother instructed.
     “Okay,” he replied and lightly tossed the card onto the counter on his way to the cabinet. He pulled out a large plate and set it by her before heading to the fridge to get syrup. She put two letter shaped pancakes on his plate and got him a fork while he set the table for himself. When he came back for his plate he grabbed the edge of the counter and leaned over it, turning his head and giving a perplexed look. “AS?” he questioned out loud.
     “It’s S for Scott and A for Allen, silly,” his mom replied as she poured more batter into the frying pan, this time just making round pancakes for herself.
     “Oh! Okay,” he said with a smile before taking the plate and going to sit at the table. It was an overall pleasant morning with blue skies, warm weather and a little music playing on the radio. But Scott was anxious about having the party and opening presents. He dug right into his meal, finishing before his mom was even ready to eat. He was patient enough to get a glass of water and go back to sit at the table while she ate.
     “You need to slow down! Eat too fast and you’ll get a stomach ache,” she lectured as she brought her food and sat down with him. He slid a coaster across the table for her glass of ice water then nestled his chin down into both of his hands and smiled at her.
     “Sooo, where are the presents?” he asked.
     “You don’t get to open them until the party,” she replied, setting her glass on the coaster as little droplets of condensation slid down the sides and gathered beneath it.
     Scott glanced away, still smiling. “I know,” he said. “I just want to see them, I’m not going to open them up or anything,” he assured.
     “Oh, you want to see them so you can guess what they are?” she probed. “Well you can wait until your father gets home.”
     “All right…” he said in a less than thrilled tone of voice and got up from his seat. He began dragging his feet to his room but was reminded by his mother to make sure his room was in decent shape since he would be having friends over. Scott had put off cleaning, so he found himself spending a bit of time getting dirty clothes off his floor and into the laundry room, picking up the trash and other things lying around. He threw them out or put them away, and of course he still had to make his bed. His mother did make things easier on him by vacuuming when he was done, instead of having him do it.
     Once things were cleaned up, at least to Scott’s satisfaction, he took a nice long break for video games.
     A few minutes before his party’s set time, Jason arrived and was welcomed by Scott’s mother, then directed to join Scott in his room while she finished frosting the cake.
     “Heeeeey Scott!” Jason greeted, feeling right at home as he stepped inside Scott’s room.
     “You’re early!” Scott laughed, his attention fixated on his video game.
     “By like five whole minutes!” Jason gasped sarcastically. “I’d better get out and wait until two on the dot.”
     “You’re actually closer to fifteen minutes early, but whatever,” Scott commented.
     “I brought you a present, so it’s all good.” Jason smirked, pulling a gift card for music out from his pocket and throwing it at Scott.
     “Ow!” Scott said with a grin as it hit him. “You don’t have to kill me with it!” he remarked teasingly, then saved his game and shut off the television and game system.
     “So what’s up?” Jason asked while he made himself comfortable in Scott’s chair.
     “Not much yet. But, I was gonna talk to you about an idea I had,” Scott commented, kicking his feet out over his bedside and sitting up. “It’s for a web comic and I was wondering if you would want to help out with it,” he began to explain.“Like I was thinking we could alternate or something. I do a page, you do a page then I do another,” he suggested.
     “Yeeeaaah, we could do that but I need to know what to draw,” Jason replied.
     “No problem, I already have storyboards made up!” Scott said cheerfully as he got up from his bed and squeezed past Jason to get the papers off of his desk.
     “Oh, haha, I didn’t even see those!” Jason laughed then took a few to look over. “What’s it about?”
     “Superheroes. Although it’s a bit more realistic than most comics. It’s about a pretty new team of heroes so they don’t take on anything too big at the start,” he explained.
     “But it starts to get more action-packed as it goes, right?” Jason asked as the doorbell rang, interrupting their conversation.
     “Uhm…I hope so... I mean, I’m still working on that,” Scott said cautiously as he handed Jason the rest of the papers. “Here, set these on my desk. We’ll talk more after the party,” he said before heading out from his room and to the door. “I’ll get it!” he yelled to his mom as he went to answer it. He pulled the door wide open without hesitance.
     “Happy birthday, Scott!” greeted a curly blonde-haired girl as she extended a present to him with both hands. It was wrapped in green with a silky gold colored bow. A somewhat shy boy stood behind her, his hands in his pockets and his back hunched slightly. Their mother was standing back by their car, busily chatting on a cell phone.
     “Thanks, Amanda,” he replied as he accepted the present. “Come on in,” he invited, stepping back from the entryway to make room while still holding the door open for them both. “Hey, Daniel!” Scott welcomed as her younger brother walked in after her.
     “Hey,” he replied in a mellow sort of way.
     “Our mom said to go on, she’ll come in later,” Amanda explained so Scott closed the door.
Jason walked around the corner to join them, and the four friends went to hang out in the living room while waiting for other guests to arrive. They kept busy enough with conversation, but slowly gravitated to the kitchen when Scott’s mom set out snacks.
     Other guests arrived and Scott’s father returned home just in time to kick off some party games. When it came time for opening presents, Scott found himself satisfied with the art supplies, new video games and new comic book. At long last it was time for cake and ice cream. His dad set the cake in front of him and lit the sixteen candles.
     “Make a wish and blow them out!” his mom encouraged.
     “You’re not getting a car, though,” his dad teasingly discouraged as he stepped back.
Scott closed his eyes for only a moment, then blew the candles out with ease and the room filled with clapping and cheers.
     “What’d you wish for?” Amanda asked with a smile as she moved around in her seat.
     “I can’t tell you!” Scott laughed, while his dad took the cake to the countertop to cut it. His mom was quick to follow, grabbing plastic forks and plates to serve it with.
     “He’s just wishing he were as awesome as me!” Scott’s friend Patrick teased and Scott stuck his tongue out at him.
     “You keep telling yourself that, Pat.” Scott poked back.
     “Feh, anyway, what’s all the art stuff for?” Patrick asked, changing the subject.
     “My web comic series. Jason and I are going to make it,” Scott answered.
     “That’s nice! What is it about? Where will you be posting it?” Amanda inquired one question right after the other.
     “I actually have a website just for it. I can send you the link,” Scott answered cheerfully. “Oh, and it’s about superheroes,” he added, catching the attention of his other friends.
     “Wait, you’ve got a website?” Jason questioned, but wasn’t heard for being talked over.
     “What kind of superheroes?” Patrick asked over the top of Jason.
     “The awesome kind! Just read it,” Scott insisted.
     “But you already have a site for it?” Jason repeated in disbelief.
     “Yes!” Scott answered and on their conversation went.
     When the party had finally wrapped up, Jason remained while the rest of Scott’s friends had gone home. Jason and Scott had pulled out the pens and paper to get straight to work drawing comics. Scott was leading the project’s story while Jason willingly drew whatever he instructed.
     “So are we going to leave them black and white or color them in?” Jason asked as he busily drew the next scene.
     “I want them in color. It just takes a really long time because I stink at using a mouse for art,” Scott commented.
     “Oh, well if you want digital coloring, I can do that for you. I actually think I’m better at coloring than drawing. Just email me the pics and let me know what colors to use,” Jason offered.
     “You’re a great artist,” Scott mumbled. “Anyway, sure, that would be a lot of help!” he agreed. He then glanced to his blinds, which glowed a warm orange color of twilight from outside. “It’s starting to get late. What time do you need to get home?” he inquired.
     “Meh, no specifics. Just whenever you want to kick me out,” Jason replied.
     “Oh, well in THAT case, get out a sleeping bag ‘cause we’re pulling an all-nighter!” Scott mocked, causing Jason to grin and shake his head. “Joking of course. I think we’ve got enough for today. Plus I can always draw more while you’re coloring,” he assured him then gathered up the comics for scanning. Jason handed what he had finished over to him.
     “All right, then. Guess I’ll go home and check my emails for those,” Jason said, stretching a bit now that he was up from his stiff sitting position.
     “I’ll probably still be scanning after you’ve walked home,” Scott mentioned.
     “Ha, probably,” Jason agreed as he headed out from Scott’s room.
Scott’s mom peeked into the hallway as they were coming out. “Are you going home, Jason?” she asked in a well-mannered sort of way.
     “Yeah. Bye, Mrs. Allen!” he politely replied, then headed for the door with Scott following.
     “Goodbye! Thank you for coming!” she said, then went back to what she was doing.
     “Bye, Jason,” Scott said as his friend went outside.
     “Bye!” Jason waved back then started a jog down the sidewalk. Scott closed the door behind him and slunk back inside with his comics in hand.
     Better get scanning… he thought to himself then got to it.
     When the evening settled in and Scott had said goodnight to his parents he locked his door and got into uniform. He teleported to Mainframe and joined with his companions, though he felt a bit worn down from his party.
     Demitri was busy typing away, as usual, and Matthew was leaned over, observing the screens from the side until Scott caught his attention.
     “Hey, what took you so long?” Matthew asked as Scott stepped into the brightly lit room.
     “Eh, nothing much. My parents just went to bed a little later than usual,” he answered with a yawn.
     “Are you okay, Scott?” Demitri asked, turning away from the monitors for a moment in expressed concern.
     “What? Yeah, I’m fine!” Scott insisted and tried to wake himself up a bit. “I just had a busy day is all,” he said, feeling a bit uncomfortable with having been asked.
     “Just checking,” Demitri said considerately. “Oh hey, would you mind adding Matthew and I to your contacts on any social media sites you use? I think it would be good if we all stayed in touch outside of our meetings here, just don’t mention anything we do through them,” he said and Scott willingly agreed. “Now, back to business, I’m not finding any good missions for us tonight guys. How about some training?” he suggested as an alternative to the night streets.
     “Do we need more training? I think we’re getting pretty good at this…” Scott commented as he swayed his arms back and forth.
     “There’s always room for improvement,” Demitri replied with a smile.
     “Unless you’re me, then you just do it for the fun of showing others up,” Matthew bantered and Scott stuck his tongue out at him.
     “Matthew, think fast!” Demitri shouted right before throwing his C-Cuff at Matthew, who was hit as he turned to respond.
     “Oh, come on!” he griped.
     “Well I did give a warning,” Demitri said in his own defense while Scott grinned ear to ear. “Scott, get your armor and let’s go,” he commanded and Scott hopped right to it. Demitri got his helmet and his C-Cuff from off the floor then stood waiting on the others to descend.
     The nightly training went well, even with things set to be a little harder than usual. For the first time since joining however, Scott found he wasn’t having quite as much fun. Perhaps after the thrill of being on real missions, the training room had lost its charm, or perhaps it had something to do with Scott being a bit drained. Whatever the reason, Scott began to feel more interested in working on his comics or going to sleep, and when the chance arose he bid them both farewell for the evening. He did the usual routine of hiding his uniform and C-Cuff, then he got in pajamas and laid back in bed. He tucked a hand behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.
     I wonder if they ever feel tired of training? he pondered as he laid there. He couldn’t imagine they always had fun. Matthew had been doing it a year longer than he had, and who knows how long Demitri had been at it. How long? He wondered. There was still so much about Demitri that he didn’t know. Just how could his uncle afford to build something like Mainframe? And just how long had Demitri been using it? What sort of life could he be living that he’s able to devote so much time and effort to this hero thing? The questions kept coming until Scott’s mind became too tired to think and he fell asleep.
     As the week moved on, Scott had the first chapter of his comic book up and sent links for the website to all of his friends that had attended his birthday party. After the work put into the first chapter, both Scott and Jason decide to take a few days’ break before working to do anything more. They agreed to just add one page every week from that point on. Scott began writing down the things he did with Matthew and Demitri in a journal so he could take the highlights from those experiences and put them into his comic book. When it came to the characters in the comic, they were always drawn in costume and never referred to by their real names. Rather, Scott made up hero names for each of them so there would be no risk of leaked identity.
     When a ferociously hot Sunday came around, Scott decided to spend time outside by arranging a water gun war with some friends to help beat the heat of the summer afternoon. They were getting soaked with water, only to have the sun dry them off to do it again. When Scott’s mother brought out popsicles, the war came to a temporary truce. Some sat on wicker chairs while the others stood in the grass, licking their vividly colored cold treats.
     “Hey Scott, I read your comic before coming over,” one of the boys said.
     “Oh yeah? What’d ya think?” Scott asked.
     “Not bad. I liked the character designs, the costumes are pretty cool. One thing though, and no pun intended when I say this, it feels like Force’s ability to make force fields around himself is, well, forced,” he replied and one of the other boys there with them laughed a bit before he remarked,
     “I haven’t read it yet!”
     Scott looked at him with a challenging stare. “What, do their powers have to be super creative and unheard of?” he asked then stuck his popsicle in his mouth.
     “Well it would be nice to see something a little different,” The boy replied then walked over to turn the hose on to refill his water gun.
     “Whatever,” Scott murmured, thinking on the irony of Matthew’s powers being considered common.
When night fell, Scott was ready for the usual as he went walking into Mainframe to find out what they would be doing for the evening.
     “Hi guys!” Scott greeted.
Matthew held a phone in his hands, scrolling over the screen with his thumb. “Ah good, you’re here. I was just reading this comic and I can’t help but notice an outlandish similarity to our little team.”
     “What comic?” Scott asked with piqued curiosity.
     “This comic, mister!” he said as he held the phone in Scott’s face, so close that Scott had to back up to see the screen. On it he saw one of the fully colored pages of his web comic, Comic Book Hero.
     “Wait, how did you find that?” Scott asked.
     “Some girl, Amanda? She posted something to you about it online which I then saw because you added me as a friend,” Matthew explained, then stuck his phone in his pocket. “So why am I made out to be such a jerk? That ‘Force’ guy is based on me, right?” he questioned and crossed his arms.
     “Uhh…” Scott hesitated, when Demitri stepped in.
     “Guys, sorry to interrupt but this is something I think you’ll both want to hear,” Demitri said, catching their attention.
     “What’s up?” Matthew asked, uncrossing his arms.
     “Come here and I’ll show you,” he instructed, leading Matthew and Scott over to Mainframe’s large monitor. “Have a look at the screen.”
     “April Heartfelt?” Matthew puzzled as he read the name out loud and looked at the picture shown.
     “Who is she? Is she in trouble?” Scott asked, hoping it might be the night’s mission.
     “No, she’s not in any kind of trouble,” Demitri answered, leaning in to adjust what Mainframe showed, switching it to an analysis of some sort. “Mainframe detected a new possible recruit before I even did the scan today. She’s one of us.”
     “Whaaaaaaaat!?” Matthew shouted, while Scott bounced up happily, exclaiming “Really!?” practically at the same time as Matthew’s shout.
     “That’s right, but here’s the really interesting part! Like I was saying, it picked up on her before the scan. Her powers should only just be budding, showing as inactive until she, like Scott, uses them. But that’s not the case with her. Her powers seem to be active almost constantly,” Demitri explained.
     “What are her superpowers?” Scott asked excitedly.
     “According to Mainframe, her powers are regenerative. For example, even if she didn’t have great stamina she could run a distance, then after stopping only for a moment, feel completely reenergized and ready to run full speed again,” Demitri replied.
     “And how is that supposed to help us? It’s not exactly useful unless she’s also some kind of acrobat like you,” Matthew remarked.
     “Well first off I do parkour so just call it that, and second, she could quite possibly be the greatest asset to our team yet,” Demitri replied with confidence. “You see, there’s a little more to her than meets the eye. According to Mainframe her powers may resonate with ours.”
     “What does mean?” Scott asked.
     “It would mean she could amplify our supernatural abilities, enhancing them to their full potential, or even beyond,” Demitri clarified.
     “Now that’s more like it!” Matthew applauded. “So, she’s all ready to go, when do we bring her in?” he asked anxiously.
     “I don’t want to rush, this time. Scott was in a situation where he would be hard to approach ahead of time, but needed to be as soon as his powers became active, to keep him from revealing them to anyone. This young lady, on the other hand, due to the nature of her abilities, she likely won’t ever be aware of them unless we inform her,” Demitri explained then changed the screen to show information about her.
     “Okay, that’s kind of creepy!” Scott commented.
     “This? This is just public information she has out on the web,” Demitri said. “If she wanted, she could set this information to be private, but it makes it easier on us to have it all out in the open.”
     “Oh. Now I’m starting to wonder if I need to check the information I’ve made public…” Scott said.
     “Gotta love those overrated social sites!” Matthew remarked.
     “You use them too, though!” Scott pointed out.
     “Only to plan events and keep in the loop of what you guys are doing. I don’t post anything about myself,” Matthew replied coolly.
     Scott shrugged and looked back at Demitri. “Anyway, why do we have to get info about where she works and what she likes?” Scott questioned.
     “Simple. We need to know where we can find her and get in touch. We couldn’t really do that with you, Scott, because of your particular circumstances. You were mostly at school or at home, and with the age gap I wasn’t really sure how to approach you as a friend.”
     “So you just burst into my room and kidnapped me!” Scott exclaimed causing Matthew to laugh while Demitri held his hand against his temple.
     “At that point, if you had been in my shoes under those circumstances, what would you have done?” he asked and Scott was quickly stumped.
     “Uhm, well if I needed to recruit another teammate, I would have probably done the same thing. I mean, it was convenient, with my parents being out of the house…” he admitted.
     “Anyway, things are different this time. Her powers are active but she’s not aware of it, you were. She’s got a job at a café so I can meet her there and slowly build her trust. That wasn’t the case with you. She’s also twenty, according to this,” he said, pointing at the screen with his thumb.“There’s not a huge age gap with her, like there was with you and I, so it won’t stir up any kind of trouble if we talk,” Demitri continued and Scott nodded.
     “Makes sense. ‘Course I don’t think you would have gotten in trouble at my school if you were just casually chatting with me.”
     “Well I prefer to be cautious, regardless. Anyway, I think building a friendship in public is the best strategy with her. And lastly, I’d just rather not teleport into her bedroom,” Demitri stated.
     “I wouldn’t mind!” Matthew raised his hand and chimed in.
     “Dude!” Scott yelled in a disapproving tone while Demitri crossed his arms and gave him a cold stare.
     “Hey, I’m just volunteering to help the team!” Matthew said, putting both his hands up in surrender, but Demitri’s scowl persisted. “I was JOKING! Man, you guys always take me so seriously,” Matthew said and Scott gave an awkward smile as he shook his head and looked toward the floor.
     “You had better be,” Demitri said in a serious tone, but was merely jesting back at that point. He then let out a sigh. “In any case, leave this one to me. I’ll try to get to know her and when the time is right, I’ll bring her to Mainframe.”
     “Sounds good!” Scott said optimistically.
     “Whatever,” Matthew mumbled in a relaxed manner and it was decided.
     “I’ll have to tweak Mainframe later. Change it so unless she’s exerting massive amounts of energy, it won’t lock in on her location or mark her powers as active,” Demitri commented, then removed any information about April he could from the monitors. That which remained were just indicators that her powers were active and showing a map of her current location.
     “Hey Demitri, I’ve been wondering…” Scott began, though a little unsure how to ask his questions.
     “Yes?” Demitri asked, giving him his full attention. Meanwhile, Matthew whipped out his phone and began to pace around the room while looking at its screen.
     “Well, I know Matthew’s in college and this April girl is working as a waitress or whatever, but what about you? I mean, do you have a job or go to school when you’re not here?” Scott asked, just curious about what kind of life the leader lived and how he had the strength and energy he did.
     “I’m not in school but I do have a job, sort of,” Demitri replied.
     “Sort of?” Scott puzzled.
     “I work for my father, usually filling in for him when he’s too busy to attend meetings or handle correspondence. It’s a bit complicated, but I’m going to be taking over his business when he retires,” Demitri explained, but seemed less than enthused by the idea.
     “Is…that what you want to do?” Scott couldn’t help but ask.
     “It’s what’s expected of me, and has been since I was born. Frankly, my father isn’t too thrilled with me for spending so much time here, but as long as I keep my head down and take care of my responsibilities, he doesn’t bring it up,” Demitri said.
     “Wait, your dad doesn’t actually know what you do, right?” Scott asked and Demitri sighed.
     “Oh, he knows!” Matthew said with his eyebrows raised.
     “If I had things my way, you two and my uncle would be the only ones aware of my powers and Mainframe right now. But enough about that. Did you have anything else you wanted to ask, or was that all?” Demitri asked politely and Scott shook his head. “All right, then. Why don’t we do some quick training and then call it a night?” he suggested and Scott and Matthew, though maybe somewhat reluctant, did agree.
     When the evening was through and all three went on their way, Scott got busy writing in his journal about the possible new recruit. Matthew went to the place he called home to crash for the night, while Demitri returned to his own quarters, and though big and spacious they may be, he hardly saw it as a place to call home.
     The furnishings were in a classic style. He had a bed with a royal air about it, and curtains to match. A wardrobe stretched across one wall, and, as if it were not enough to hold his possessions, a door which opened to a walk-in closet stood at its end. He had a desk in the room as well, one that would put Scott’s to shame. The room was astounding, complete with a glistening chandelier, yet Demitri proved quite used to the surroundings. He was bored and tired now that he had left Mainframe.
     He sat on the plush carpeted floor, leaning back against his bed with his eyes closed as he gave an exhausted sigh. “Thank you,” he said smiling. “I feel ready now. I’m going to do more, I just ask that you’d guide me through it,” he prayed, then opened his eyes and laid his wrist atop his knee. “Lord, please let Mainframe be right about this. It would make a world of difference.”

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