Summary: Kerri's had it with being a victim. But she's not sure how to ask her parents for what she needs to stop being one.
Previous Chapters: Click the Hero In My Life tag.
I didn’t sound Jeremy out. Not that night, not the next day, not any day the next week. I wasn’t sure how. I mean, you’d think it would be easy, but it really wasn’t. See, if I knew for a fact that Jeremy was interested in Marianne, then it was just a question of who would get up the nerve to ask who if they wanted to hang out together. The problem was that I didn’t know anything for a fact.
If I asked Jeremy whether he liked Marianne, well, he’d probably say ‘yes’. I liked just about everyone I’d met at Glen Ayr. I was friendly with a lot of the kids I met in different classes and workshops. That didn’t make me interested in getting together with them outside class or wanting a serious relationship or anything. So, what was I supposed to do? Ask him how much he liked her? Or if he wanted to go out with her? If he said ‘no’, I’d have to tell Marianne.
I remembered that back in seventh grade, Lana King had come up with what she thought was a great joke. She’d gone around telling different guys that different girls were really into them, but didn’t have the guts to talk to them. I don’t know if she just randomly picked names or if she went out of her way to match the guys up with girls who actually hated them, but I know that there were a lot of hurt feelings for a long time afterwards. What if something like that had happened at Jeremy’s old school, too? Because if it had, then if I sounded him out about Marianne, he might tell me he didn’t like her, just to—as Sharon might have put it—foil my evil plan. In other words, even if he liked her, he might say he didn’t.
Maybe he did like her. But if Marianne didn’t have the guts to talk to him herself, then who was to say she’d have the guts to act, when she had definite information? Or what if they got to talking and Jeremy realized he really liked her, but once she got to know him, she realized that she didn’t like him as much as she thought she did?
I had a sinking feeling that, unless things really did work out perfectly, no matter what happened, they were both going to blame me.
So, I tried to bury myself in my work and hoped that Marianne wouldn’t bring it up again.
I kept up with the kettlebells. I don’t think I can say that I got to like them, but I got to like the way I felt after a workout, when I got to stop lifting and lunging with them and my arms stopped feeling like they wanted to fall off. One morning, when Tremain let us go a few minutes early, I hung around and gave the pull-up bar another shot. I got a dozen before my arms started to hurt, and managed another four before I had to quit. When I stood on the mat once more, I looked at my hands in disbelief. I didn’t feel like I was that much stronger. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to get mistaken for an Olympic bodybuilder anytime soon. But obviously, something was paying off.
When I got back to the dorm at lunch, there was an email waiting for my parents, asking me what I wanted for Christmas this year. I didn’t have time to reply right then and there, but I was seriously considering asking for kettlebells. I knew it would surprise them. I’d never been into working out. I mean, Sharon and I had our nature walks and I’d always done okay in gym. I wasn’t a bad swimmer, either. But I’d never been interested in doing anything athletic that wasn’t part of phys. ed., or summer camp.
I kind of took it the way I took tanning in the summer. I never had the patience to lie down in a bathing suit and soak up the sun. Probably a good idea, since it wasn’t healthy with that hole in the ozone layer, but that wasn’t why I didn’t do it. I just found lying down on a towel boring. I didn’t always put on sunscreen when I went outside, either. I just did my normal stuff—walked around town, hung out at the park or pool or conservation area, and just let the sun do its thing while I did mine. And I usually ended up with a pretty good tan by the end of August. In the same way, I didn’t go trying to be an athlete, but I was active enough to be in decent shape without joining a gym or hitting a treadmill.
If I asked my parents for kettlebells, they’d have questions. But if I didn’t, then I’d be spending more than two whole weeks without working with them—all signed out equipment had to be returned at the end of term. It would be that much harder to get back into practice when I came back in January.
It occurred to me then that I probably wasn’t the only kid in the school with a problem like this. Maybe it was time to talk to someone about it.
Track Ones had two extra class periods Monday through Thursday and half a day each on Saturday and Sunday. It was optional for Track Twos. I’d known this since the first week of classes, but I hadn’t paid much attention. I was a Track Two, I wasn’t planning on being Hero Stream, and everyone had told me that high school was going to be so much tougher than middle school, so the last thing I’d wanted was more classes. More gym classes. Yeah, if I flunked biology because track or soccer cut into my study time… forget the villains. My own parents were probably going to chain me to a desk and get a snake to guard me. So, when the Track Ones (and the Track Twos who were Hero Stream or planning on it) were getting in their extra training time, I mostly hit the books—assigned or otherwise.
Until now, I hadn’t paid that much attention to those extra classes, but it occurred to me that some of those kids might be in the same boat I was. Marianne wasn’t. Her mother might not like that she was training to be a hero, but at least she knew about it.
Crud. Marianne wanted to be a hero and I was the one acting like I had a secret identity. I thought coming here was supposed to change all that. All the more reason to talk to someone else. I grabbed my coat off the back of my desk chair and looked out the window. There was snow on the ground, but the paths were clean. I’d be okay in shoes. I wasn’t sure about a hat and gloves, but I jammed them into my pocket, just in case. That was another thing that had changed: back in Roehampton, I wore them out the door and hid them in my bag as soon as I was out of my parents’ sight. It didn’t matter if it was mild weather or forty below. Call it rebellion. Call it being warm-blooded. Call it a way to make sure I moved quickly to keep warm. Here in Glen Ayr, I carried them in my pockets, ready to put them on the minute I got outside. If my folks could see me now…
…Then they’d go on about how I was going outside without my boots when there was snow on the ground. Suddenly, I was glad they couldn’t.
All the same, I broke into a trot as I headed toward the athletics centre and I kept my eyes open for ice patches on the path.
Except for that day when we all took our fitness placement tests, I’d never watched Marianne in action. I wasn’t counting the kettlebells. That wasn’t part of her regular training and I’d just showed her a few exercises before she went off to run and I went back to squats and lunges. But right now, sitting in the bleachers of a huge gym, I was getting an eyeful.
When I’d come in, she’d been leading five other girls in a hurdle race. All of them older. Three of them bigger. And it hadn’t been a photo finish; she’d been the clear winner. Now, she had a vaulting pole and was patiently waiting her turn for the high jump.
As I watched, Dani Nguyen started her approach. She started off well, building up speed, but when she planted her pole and rose in the air, she didn’t make it over the bar. I tried to look away, but not before I saw the embarrassment on her face. I saw the teacher walk over to her and say something. It looked like he was trying to encourage her and she sort of nodded, but she looked miserable when she walked back to the end of the line.
Then it was Marianne’s turn. The teacher held up his hand for her to wait while he cranked the bar up about another thirty centimeters. Then he signaled to her to go. Right from the start, I could see that this was going to be different. She came down the runway at a fast clip, her eyes straight ahead, her body leaning slightly forward. Her feet left the ground at the instant that her pole hit it. She sailed over that bar with a couple of centimeters to spare and landed almost flat on her back in the pit. She saw me in the stands and grinned, as the teacher ran up to her. His grin was almost as big as hers was. I watched the other four girls take their turns and then they took another pass. Dani did better this time out. So did Marianne.
I looked at my watch. They should be just about done by now. Right on cue, the teacher blew his whistle. “Good class, girls,” he announced. “Hit the showers. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Most of the girls left the gym. Marianne jogged up to me. “Hey.”
“Hey,” I answered. “You looked great up there.”
She shrugged. “Pole vaulting and hurdles are my best events is all,” she said. “I’m kind of glad you weren’t here for my javelin throw. Why are you here? Not that I’m complaining, but aren’t you usually hitting the books around now?”
I sighed. “I need some advice.” I explained about the kettlebells. “So, I thought it might be a good idea to talk to someone whose parents…”
“…Don’t know what this school is really for,” Marianne nodded. “I hear you. I mean, if it were me, I’d ask my folks for money and buy them myself, but you’re right. My mother knows about this place. She might not want me to wear a costume, but at least she’s considered the possibility that I will and if I train for it now, it’ll be easier than trying to do it all later.”
“Yeah. So, do you know anyone else with my problem?”
Marianne smiled. “Probably, I just don’t know who, yet. So, come wait in the locker room and we’ll talk it over once everyone’s out of the shower.”
Heather frowned. “Maybe you could just tell her you’re taking up strength training. I mean, there’s nothing about kettlebells that screams ‘I want to be a hero’.”
“I don’t want to be a hero,” I said wearily. “If I did, I’d be taking this class, too.”
“Not if you were undercover.” Willa was in tenth grade like Heather, but she was a head shorter than I was.
“If you ask me,” Dani said, “you’re overthinking. Work with me. Suppose that you really had won a scholarship to some prestigious boarding school out of town. And that while there, you’d started working out a bit and wanted to continue over your break. Now. Would you be racking your brains to come up with some excuse to ask for kettlebells without making your parents suspicious, or would you just… ask for them?”
“I…” I stopped. Dani was right. Ever since I’d learned about Sharon, I’d been dividing my life into ‘normal stuff’ (okay to talk about with other people) and ‘costume stuff’ (not okay to talk about with anybody but Sharon). And since phys. ed. was important here because it was costume-related—even us non-cape types were basically taking more intense classes than we’d get in other schools because of how cape types affected us—it hadn’t occurred to me that I could discuss it beyond mentioning that my gym teacher was ‘nice’. What was so wrong with the truth? I’d been pathetic at pull-ups and asked how I could improve. I’d started with kettlebells and discovered I liked them. Who cared if I’d never been concerned about gym before? Last year, I’d wanted to be on the basketball team. I hadn’t made it, but my parents hadn’t been shocked that I’d tried out. I’d taken calligraphy for two years before that. I thought back. Piano, ballet, arts and crafts, swim and gym… Did I really think they’d give me weird looks over kettlebells?
“I’m such an idiot,” I groaned.
“Yeah?” Dani shot back. “Well, if you are, so am I. Only in my case, it was wrist and ankle weights for aerobics.” She shrugged. “I wanted to build resistance. Now. If you’re going out for the jetpack workshop…”
I laughed. “Yeah, I get it. It’s just that I’ve never really been interested in this stuff before.”
“You’re a teenager,” Lisette Lefebvre pointed out. She was in twelfth, like Dani. “You’re supposed to be trying new things. If you’re interested now, then go for it. And if you lose interest in a couple of months, so what? It probably won’t be the first time you play with a gift for a few weeks and then forget about it.”
“Right.” It wasn’t.
“I use kettlebells, too.” Sally Hertez spoke up. “If you ever want any tips or anything…”
I grinned. “Thanks. I’ve got a workout partner right now—”
“Yeah, can’t let anything cut into your ‘Reggie time,’” Marianne cooed.
I waved her off as Heather giggled. “—But if that changes, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I’m going to see if I can get my bio homework done before supper.”
“Sure,” Marianne said. “Hold up a minute for us to get our coats and we can all walk back together. It’s not like we aren’t all in the Track Two dorm.”
She had a point. I looked around. The other girls didn’t look annoyed at the idea of walking back with a couple of grade nines. That was a little strange to me. Back home, we usually stuck to our own grades. A year ahead or behind wasn’t a big deal, but you’d never catch—say—a grade six hanging out with a grade three, unless they were related. Usually even then, it was under duress. But these girls seemed all for it.
“No problem,” I smiled. “I have to get mine, too.”
“They seem really great,” I admitted. We were back in our dorm kitchen, downing maple-syrup-infused hot chocolate and melba toast. Marianne had called it ‘something naughty, something nice’.
“They are,” Marianne nodded, taking off her chocolate mustache with a piece of paper towel she’d torn off the roll to use as a napkin. “We’re all in the same boat: we need to train twice as hard to be half as good as the Track Ones.” She grinned and reached for a fresh packet of melba toast. “Fortunately, in many cases, this is not that difficult.”
I blinked. “Really?”
The cellophane crackled as she tore open the packet. “I hate to say it,” she said, “but Macomber isn’t totally wrong about Track Ones being used to coasting. Their powers give them a head start, but just because they begin ahead of the pack doesn’t mean they stay there. If you ever watch distance running, you’ll see that the competitors who take early leads don’t necessarily keep them.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. I mean, we’re all on the same team, so as long as, at the end of the day, the bad guys are stopped, the natural disasters are contained, and the survivors are safe, it doesn’t really matter who did the most. But…”
She didn’t finish. I downed the last of my hot chocolate. “But…?”
Marianne frowned, thinking. “I used to think that with all the training I did, it would just be enough so I could keep my head above water and not be the weakest link on the team. But then, I started to realize that most of the Track Ones come here knowing what they’re best at and they keep building on that. Remember Sharon griping about hurdles back on the first day? I was hearing stuff like that from other Track Ones at every station that day. Me? I always assumed I’d have to work hard at everything, so that’s what I did. But the problem when you’re light years ahead of everyone else at one or two things is that you can convince yourself that the other stuff doesn’t matter. Then you come to a place like this and discover that it actually does. And that’s when folks like me and Dani and Sally, who’ve been training in different disciplines all along, can really shine. We’ve been plugging since Day One. And the ones who’ve been coasting don’t know how.”
“Sharon doesn’t coast,” I retorted.
Marianne nodded, but she was still frowning. “Sharon doesn’t coast as much. But she’s been in a costume for more than five years and both her parents wear costumes. She’s had more training already than most of the other kids here. But, again, her training has been playing to her strengths.” She smiled. “I’ll never beat her in a foot race. The best I’ll ever do is shave a few tenths of a second off of her lead. But when you’re running after a crook or… let’s admit that this can happen too: running away from a costumed villain with some super-weapon, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be on a smooth road with no obstacles. So, if Sharon—or, forget Sharon for a second… If any costumed hero can win a five-hundred-meter dash in a track and field match, but can’t manage hurdles, or a long jump, or run an obstacle course without faltering, then once they’re out in the field in the real world, they’re going to be at a disadvantage.”
She sighed. “I’m not saying that the Track Ones can’t—or won’t—catch up and surpass. Most of them probably will. If they stop coasting on what they’re already good at and start working on what they’re not. Like you, for example.”
I blinked and felt my face grow warm. “Me? I’m no Track One.”
“I know that,” Marianne laughed. “But,” she continued seriously, “you’re not so quick to give up at something you aren’t good at right away. You couldn’t handle the pull-ups. You talked to your teacher, and now, not only are you handling them; you’re ready to ask your parents for a set of kettlebells for Christmas. I know a lot of people who’d just figure it wasn’t worth getting worked up over something you’d have to deal with for a week and maybe never again.”
“That’s because you don’t know the whole story,” I sighed. “A couple of years ago, I was running from…” I frowned. “You know, I don’t even remember at this point. They were after me because they’d seen me talking with Sharon while she was in costume and figured I was somehow important. I don’t remember everything, but I know I ran into an alley between two apartment buildings. It was a dead end, but the ally ran behind the buildings and they had these fire escapes. I thought that if I could climb up on one of them, maybe I could get up to the roof and maybe escape that way. So, I jumped and I caught the lower step of one of the escapes, but I couldn’t pull myself up. If Sharon hadn’t got there just then…”
Marianne shook her head. “Yeesh,” she said.
I nodded. “For the last few years, it’s felt like I’ve been wearing a giant target on my back. I never thought about whether there was anything I could do besides try to stay out of sight and, if that didn’t work, hope Sharon got to me before the bad guys did more than tie me up or lock me in a storeroom or something. But when we started doing pull-ups in fitness class, I think it finally hit me that, if I’d been strong enough that day in the alley…”
“You would have made it onto the fire escape,” Marianne nodded back.
I took another breath. “I think I’m always going to have that target on my back,” I said. I think it was the first time I’d ever admitted it out loud and I hoped I didn’t sound too pathetic. “At least, as long as I live in Roehampton. But I’m tired of sitting around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want to be a hero,” I said slowly, “but I think I’m tired of being a victim, too. If extra training will help with that,” I continued, feeling a smile on my lips, “then I say, bring it.”
I got a 74 on my French test. I would’ve done better if it had been oral instead of written; ais, é, and er all sound the same in French. I didn’t think it was fair of Mr. Belanger to count spelling. When I complained to Sophie at supper, though, she went through a whole list of reasons why English spelling was even worse. I’d never thought about that, though. I read enough that I was just used to knowing what the words looked like. I’d never sat down and wondered why there was no ‘f’ in ‘enough’ or why we needed a ‘ph’ if we already had an ‘f’.
“Maybe you should start reading more French,” Marianne suggested. “It might help.”
I thought about everything I already had to read and review for mid-terms. About the five-page English essay due next week. About the geometry homework I still wasn’t sure I understood. And I shook my head. “If I have the time to do that, I need to spend it preparing for mid-terms.”
“Boy, can I relate to that!” Sharon laughed. “But seriously, I don’t know why you’re complaining; you’ve got loads more time to study than I do. You should try having another seven and a half hours of gym and combat training and still have to get all the same assignments in and write all the same tests. You don’t know how good you’ve got it.”
She was right. I knew she was right. But I felt myself getting angry, just the same. Abruptly, I picked up my tray and headed for the bins at the far wall, where we dumped our dirty dishes. “I’m done,” I muttered.
I pretended not to hear Sharon calling after me. I told myself that it wasn’t as though she couldn’t race to catch up with me if she wanted to. That wasn’t her style, though. She was more about giving me time to cool off, like I was some immature little kid in need of a timeout. Problem was, I wasn’t so sure I didn’t need one. Sharon was taking more classes than I was. She did have less time to study. Only she didn’t care about her grades the way I did. And when she talked about how ‘good’ I had it, I needed to get away from her before I blew up in front of the whole dining hall.
Sometimes… I really hated my best friend.