ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 12: YOU GOTTA GO WITH YOUR GUT!
Robbie had just finished another basketball practice session and was washing off in the shower room. The cool water felt refreshing as it poured down over him, and he stood there motionless as the rest of his team finished up. To clear his mind and ease his stress, he had pushed himself hard during practice that day. During his strenuous playing, there had been a moment where he could forget everything … Excalibur, Chris, Lavi, invisible threats … none of it mattered on the court.
Now that practice was over, while under the spray of the cool shower, the thoughts began to creep back. The prickly reverberations of the water in the shower room were insufficient to cancel the noise of his uneasiness.
Realizing that he was the last person left in the shower room, he shut off the water, wrapped his towel around himself, and headed to the locker room. While getting dressed, he checked his phone and saw Tinashe had texted him. She wanted to see him later. He wanted to see her, too.
It was sunny and comfortable outside. Robbie stopped by his home to drop off his gym bag and homework, chugged a glass of apple juice, then walked to the nearest bus stop. While riding to Tinashe’s place, he continued to text her, which helped keep his mind grounded.
A little before reaching his destination, Robbie looked up from his phone. Several other passengers had been coughing the entire time, some of them coughing harshly. Two children were using hand sanitizer their mother made them use. A young man took a vitamin supplement and washed it down with a bottle of green tea. An elderly woman was holding a tissue to her face to filter out the air she breathed in.
Seeing all of that made Robbie uncomfortable, as if he was trapped in a box filled with disease. The bus pulled up to the stop one before his, but he stood up and exited, deciding to walk the rest of the way in the open air.
Tinashe lived on the fourth floor in an old, beautiful brick apartment building with her parents and three younger siblings. Robbie sent her a text message saying he was there, went to the side of the building, and jogged up the fire escape, being careful to tread lightly to reduce the sound he made while climbing the metal stairs. He stopped at the fourth floor and tapped on the window belonging to Tinashe’s little brother, who opened it for him.
“Hey there, Dwayne!” Robbie greeted the eleven-year-old brother.
“Yo, Tinashe should be ready any second,” Dwayne replied.
“Cool. Have her meet me outside, alright?”
Robbie tousled Dwayne’s curly hair, who grinned a grin that had two permanent teeth growing in place of the baby teeth that had recently been traded for quarters under his pillow. Sneaking back down the fire escape, Robbie waited at the entrance until Tinashe came out.
“Hi,” she said sweetly.
“Hey. You know, this would be a lot easier on me if you didn’t have a scary dad keeping you under watch.”
“Well, you don’t have to climb up the fire escape, Robbie,” Tinashe told him with a smile.
“Nah, it’s fun.”
“Then what’s your problem?”
“My problem is your scary dad.”
Tinashe laughed, glancing at Robbie’s toned arms and legs.
“I wouldn’t worry about him,” she said.
“I ain’t worried,” Robbie told her, giving her a hug. “You wanna catch a movie?”
“Yeah, we can do that,” she said enthusiastically.
The movie Robbie and Tinashe attended was based on a true story about a mob in New York City in the 1920s. It starred a great lineup of underrated actors and actresses, and was directed by a renowned director. Tinashe snacked on a box of Raisinets while Robbie munched on popcorn dusted with cheesy powder.
Although the story was interesting and the cinematics presented it in a dynamic, gripping fashion, Robbie was having a hard time focusing on the screen. Instead, as he chewed his overpriced popcorn and stared into the space several yards in front of the expansive screen, he kept thinking about the possibility of there being something else in that theater. Within the dark room with dozens of other people, with flickering lights from the projector illuminating the walls and faces, with the familiar aroma of popcorn and hotdogs and soft pretzels and nachos … there could be something else there. There could be something watching, listening, touching, and waiting.
Absentmindedly, perhaps unconsciously searching for some sort of security, Robbie put his cheesy, buttery hand into his pocket and grasped his phone. In some recess at the outskirts of his mind, he was wishing the Excalibur A.I. app was there, ready to warn him of oncoming threats, or that Gunnhildr was at his beck and call.
Or that Chris Findale was somewhere nearby.
After the movie, the two walked out of the theater. The place was busy, although there weren’t any major blockbuster releases that week. Tinashe was praising the film for its historical accuracy, and Robbie was just nodding and agreeing.
“What next?” Tinashe asked, the first thing she had said that really caught Robbie’s attention since leaving the theater. “I have some time left.”
He looked at her, discovering internal refuge within her eyes and smile.
“What do you feel like doing?” Robbie asked.
Tinashe thought about it for a bit.
“Hmm, well … that candy was the only thing I’ve eaten since lunch. I’m a little hungry.”
“Hungry, huh?” Robbie had finished off his small popcorn, so some actual sustenance sounded to be in order. “Yeah, let’s get some food.”
“You sure? You just ate all that popcorn.”
“I played hard at practice today,” Robbie told her, patting his stomach with both hands. “I’m a hungry dude.”
“I could go for a good ol’ sandwich,” Tinashe said. “Rasta Blasta Sammiches is my favorite.”
“I’m down with that.”
“The bus stop is right over there. Let’s take it.”
“Uh, I don’t know about taking a bus,” he said skeptically. “The one I took to your place earlier was filled with sick people. I’m all germophobic now.”
Tinashe gave him a mocking look.
“Really? You’re scared of getting sick?” she said teasingly.
“Well, yeah!” he replied. “You weren’t there. People were coughing and stuff. It was ….”
“Yeah … gross.”
Chuckling, Tinashe said, “Well, we can take a taxi or Uber.”
Robbie took out his phone to access the Uber app, but the screen was smeared with cheese dust and butter. Wiping it off on his shorts, he noticed a taxi waiting by the curb, so he and Tinashe took it to the sandwich shop.
The sun had dipped below the horizon when the two made it back to Tinashe’s apartment. They stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading to the main entrance.
“I had fun, Robbie,” Tinashe told him happily. “We should do this again.”
“For sure,” Robbie replied with a smile. “It was a fun date.”
“A-a date? Is that what this was?”
Robbie chuckled and shrugged.
“If it wasn’t a date, then I don’t know what it was.”
At that point, there was a nervous impulse for Tinashe to tell him it could’ve been a casual meetup with two friends, but for some reason, that didn’t seem entirely accurate, and she was fine with that.
“Well, okay then,” she said, looking at the ground, unable to drop the smile from her face. “Um, I’ll see ya tomorrow then, yeah?”
“Yeah, for sure.”
“Cool. I will, uh … see you tomorrow. Uh, goodnight, Robbie.”
She walked up the first couple stairs, stopped, then turned around and walked back up to Robbie. It seemed to take forever to reach him from the staircase.
“Hey,” she said softly, not making eye contact and standing right in front of him, “meet me at my brother’s window.”
“Uh, okay.” Robbie was confused, but couldn’t turn her down.
With a breathy chuckle, Tinashe turned around and entered the apartment building. Robbie went around the side and climbed up the fire escape, once again treading lightly to reduce the noise on the metal stairs. He made it to Dwayne’s window on the fourth floor and tapped on the glass. As soon as Dwayne opened it, Tinashe came into the room.
“Dwayne, get out,” she said.
“Do it for me, please?”
“But it’s my room!”
“I’ll buy you a video game this weekend. Just get out. It’ll only take a second.”
“Really? A video game?”
“Really for real. Now be a good boy.”
She picked up her little brother and carried him out of the room without him putting up a fuss. When she set him down in the hall and closed the door, she walked over to the window where Robbie was.
“What was that about?” Robbie asked.
Instead of answering, Tinashe leaned out the window and gave Robbie a kiss on the mouth. The shock of the situation, coupled with the pure enjoyment of what was happening, quickly melted into a soothing bliss that felt hundreds of times better than a cool after-practice shower as it poured over Robbie from head to toe.
When Tinashe eventually backed away, they stared at each other for several seconds, then she went in for another kiss.
“Did you really have to make me come up here for that?” Robbie asked. In fact, that was the one and only thing he could possibly think of saying. In even more of a truthful fact, he didn’t even think to say it at all. He didn’t care.
Tinashe smiled and said, “But you said climbing the fire escape is fun.”
“I did say that.”
“Nobody can know that you were up here,” she said. “Being real.”
“I won’t tell.”
“Well.” There was a beautiful pause. There was eye contact. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait,” Robbie replied, smiling, or something close to that expression.
The pane of glass when Tinashe shut the window felt like a barrier lightyears in length between the two as Robbie watched her leave the room.
With weightless legs, a body made of wind, and a heart bursting with shimmering gold, Robbie stepped back and leaned on the rail of the fire escape. He gazed into the infinite night sky, and although the glow of the city obscured his view, he gazed at the burning stars that rivaled the burning passion in his chest, licking his lips and tasting the raspberry lip balm that had rubbed off on them. As the feeling of feather-light gravity continued to lift his spirits, the sturdiness of the rail propping him up suddenly fell out from behind him, his feet lifted from the metal fire escape, and he plummeted toward the ground from four stories in the air. Bits of rust from the broken rail snowed around him as the stars above, through the mask of city-glow, watched the boy’s rapid descent toward the asphalt.
A sharp clang from the rail hitting the ground echoed down the street, but everyone who heard it quickly dismissed it.
The next morning, a glorious sunrise paid its warmth to the city of Chicago. Mr. Jankowski, the landlord of the apartment building where Tinashe lived with her family, was outside the building and examining the broken rail that had fallen off the fire escape from the fourth floor. Looking at the rusty parts, he concluded the rail had simply rusted through and fell on its own. The eleven-year-old boy whose window overlooked the broken part of the fire escape claimed nobody had been using the fire escape (and his older sister could attest to that), so it must have happened on its own.
In another part of the city, Robbie awoke to the sound of his alarm clock. Having had a nearly sleepless night, and not very tired due to racing thoughts, he quickly shut the alarm off, rolled onto his back, and stared at the ceiling. After pondering nothing in particular, yet everything at once, he jumped out of bed, quickly got ready for school, and stampeded out the door, ignoring his mother’s offer of toast with jam and scrambled eggs with sliced hotdogs.
Robbie was going to talk to Lavi, the angel disguised as his school’s vice principal. Robbie was going to demand to know how he was able to create a force field that enabled him to walk away from a four-story fall without so much as a scratch.
Students were lazily filing into the school as Robbie squeezed through them, cutting a straight line down the center of the crowd going into the quadruple-door main entrance of Lyonbole Public High School. With his gym bag hanging from his shoulder, he had to apologize to many of his peers as they were smacked by it. They muttered curses under their breaths, and although he couldn’t hear exactly what words they used, he surely imagined what they were saying.
Still, he pressed on. Inside the building, he kept pressing. There were so many lazy students! He had never realized how many students there were until the pace at which he moved was different from the rest.
Suddenly, over the heads of many students in front, the back of a familiar head emerged within the crowd: Chris Findale. With a small wave of delight, Robbie made a direct course to Chris and caught up with him.
“Chris!” he called out from several paces behind, his loud voice like an obnoxious blade chopping through the morning quietness.
Chris was walking next to Drake, and they both looked back, not stopping. Robbie approached them and slowed down to match the flow of traffic down the large hallway.
“What’s up?” Chris asked. He was already prepared for some sort of offbeat news, judging by the firmness on Robbie’s face.
“Can you come with me?” Robbie asked straightforwardly, keeping his composure.
Drake looked at them disapprovingly before saying, “I’m gonna keep going. Catch ya later, dude.”
“Yeah, later,” Chris replied.
Drake headed down one hallway as Chris and Robbie took a turn down another. Keeping with the herd of students, not standing out, and not causing disruptions … those were crucial to keeping a low profile.
“What’s your phone number?” Robbie asked nonchalantly as they walked. “We can text our conversation.”
“Oh, good idea,” Chris replied.
Immediately, Robbie felt his phone vibrate and heard his ringtone. He had received a text message from an unfamiliar number.
["Greetings, Robert Smith. This is the Excalibur Artificial Intelligence application. I took the liberty of sending a text message from Christopher’s phone to yours. Now you may save the number."]
“Uh, kinda cool and kinda creepy,” Robbie said. “It’s from Excalibur, so I have your number now.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Chris said, grinning.
“Invasion of privacy much?” Robbie muttered, not sure what level of sarcasm he may or may not had just used.
“It’s handy, gotta admit,” was all he said.
Typing a quick message, Robbie told Chris what had happened.
["I fell from the 4th floor of a building lastnite and didnt get hurt. I think i used a force field?"]
Confused, Chris replied with another text.
["U mean like a protective shield? And the fall didnt hurt u"]
Still walking, Robbie replied:
["For real tho. Just like a superhero"]
Just like a superhero.
Chris remembered what Lavi had said during that fateful conversation when all was revealed, and he remembered how Lavi had likened the boy to a classic superhero from comic books, blockbuster movies, and TV shows. Before he could consider replying with another text, his phone received one from Robbie again.
["Im going to see Mr. Kampton now. Come with?"]
Looking at Robbie, Chris nodded.
At the main office, sitting behind her desk and wearing her usual resting bitch face, Mrs. Brown looked up at the two boys who seemed to materialize in front of her. The rock solid expressions they had were akin to her own, and despite feeling a miniscule pang of kinship with these serious-looking boys, her response was still the same unenthused tone.
“Yes?” she asked with a grumbling sigh.
“We want to speak to Mr. Kampton,” Chris told her firmly.
“Do you have an appointment?”
The boys exchanged glances.
“We’ll make one now,” Robbie said.
“Just a moment.” Mrs. Brown clicked away at her computer’s keyboard. Something about the sound of her fingernails on her keyboard was oddly obnoxious, maybe even nauseating. “Actually, he’s available now.”
“Good,” Chris said, “thank you.”
A noise emanated from the scary-looking secretary’s throat that the boys translated as, “You’re welcome, brats,” and they headed to the vice principal’s office. The door was closed and music could be faintly heard coming from the other side, so Robbie knocked and received a prompt reply.
The vice principal was sitting at his desk, listening to “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars while picking apart a Rubik’s Cube. He seemed happy to see Chris and Robbie, smiling at them as they walked into the office. Robbie closed the door behind him. They didn’t bother taking a seat.
“Boys!” Lavi greeted brightly. Pieces of the Rubik’s Cube bounced across his desk and fell to the floor. “What can I do for you?”
“I want to talk to you, sir.” Robbie was attempting to be as professional as possible. “Chris is just here to … uh, be here.”
“Okay,” Lavi replied, dropping the rest of the disassembled puzzle on the desk. “Let’s talk.” He turned off the small clock radio on his desk to stop the music.
“I’ll be straight about it,” Robbie said. “I think I might have created some sort of protective force field last night. Uh, how can I explain this …?”
“A shield of sorts?” Lavi was interested. “Did it protect you from something that would’ve screwed you up otherwise?”
“Exactly.” Robbie nodded. “I guess, uh, I just wanna know how?”
“It’s simple, really,” Lavi told him plainly. “That’s your power.”
“What do you mean it’s my power?” Robbie asked.
“Your superpower,” Chris told him. “Think about fictional superheroes.”
Robbie was skeptical.
“So, that means it really is a superpower?” Robbie chuckled, shaking his head. “I … don’t know how to take that ….”
“It doesn’t matter how to take it,” Lavi told him, “because ya got it already.”
“But how did I do it?” Robbie asked with a huge shrug. “What do I do if I need to use it again? I think it’s great to have, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know what the hell it’s about!”
Lavi looked at the ceiling.
“Well, I’ve never personally been in your shoes, so I can’t give a fully accurate answer. However,” he looked back at Robbie, “from what I’ve gathered throughout my long history with humans … and believe it, it’s long … is you gotta go with your gut! Like an instinct.”
Clearly not satisfied by that response, Robbie let his posture slouch.
“I was afraid you’d say something like that,” he muttered.
“Yeah, that’s about how I see it,” Chris said.
“So, that’s just the reality.” Robbie was forcing himself to be conclusive, although he was still skeptical.
“You have powers now,” Lavi said cheerfully. “Use them as you see fit. The more you use them, the more they’ll level up and be better, like training a muscle. Just listen to your heart, and they’ll do as you wish. You might encounter some weird stuff out there, so they’ll be really nice to have.”
“Yeah, weird stuff is right,” Chris said, checking his phone. No messages or missed calls. No input from the Excalibur A.I.
Lavi smiled at Chris. “How’s your phone? Doing okay?”
“Uh, I think so,” Chris told him. “It’s helping me. Having a talking phone is weird, though.”
“Meh, you’ll get used to it,” Lavi said with a smile. “Well, anything else I can help you with?”
“Yeah, there is,” Chris said. “There was something in the school yesterday. Excalibur called it an ancient being, and it was born from negative energy.”
“Did you shoot it with Gunnhildr?” Lavi asked, intrigued.
“I did, and it disappeared.”
“But there was a second evil thing here,” Chris continued, “and now Excalibur can’t find it.”
“What do ya mean can’t find it?” Robbie asked. “Is it gone?”
“I hope,” Chris said with a shrug, “but I don’t know.”
“The Excalibur A.I. app isn’t perfect,” Lavi told the boys. “Future updates should make it better. However, detecting entities with powers, whether they be human or not, is hard. There are a lot of different energy readings these powers emit, which makes detecting them complicated.”
The boys looked at each other sullenly.
“I see,” Chris sighed, looking at his phone. “Finding these things won’t be easy.”
“True, it won’t be,” Lavi said. “You have a lot of questions right now, I know. A lot of things are confusing or don’t make sense. Be patient, the answers will come … but it might take a while.”
“Now, what else can I help with?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Robbie said. “How about I have your phone number so I can call you if I have any more questions?”
“Hmm, nope, I don’t have a phone, sorry,” Lavi told him. “They’re extraordinary, but confusing. I considered getting one, but don’t like ‘em.”
“There’s one on your desk.” Robbie pointed at the corded office phone on the vice principal’s desk.
“That’s for work only,” Lavi explained, petting the phone like a kitten.
“But we might need you for something,” Chris protested. “What if you’re not here, or we can’t find you? I wanted to talk to you yesterday, but you were gone.”
“Don’t worry!” Lavi chortled and smiled boldly. “I’m always with you in your hearts!”
The phone Lavi was petting suddenly sounded off as Mrs. Brown’s voice came through its loudspeaker.
“Leon, there’s someone outside to meet you. Says he’s from Mondo Cake World, and you’re the only person here who buys those … monstrosities.”
“Awesome! Have him bring it in! I’ll share it with ya’ll!”
“He said there’s been a problem. The cake got damaged during transport.”
The delight fell from Lavi’s face as he was horrorstruck. After a moment of grimacing, he replied, “I’m coming. Don’t let him get away.”
When Lavi dashed out of the room, Chris and Robbie were left alone in the office. Robbie inhaled audibly, held the breath in, and then blew it out.
“Why do I feel like I didn’t learn anything from this?” Robbie wondered out loud.
“It’ll be fine, man,” Chris told him reassuringly.
Robbie rubbed the back of his neck, looking around at the floor.
“You’re almost too laidback about this,” Robbie said with a weak smile. “Ain’t you worried?”
“Worried about what?”
“About whatever this whole damn mess is gonna mean for us!” Realizing his voice had become rather loud, Robbie quieted down. “It doesn’t … like, bother you?”
After some serious thought, Chris replied, “Actually, it does. I’m scared of the future, scared of whatever path is ahead of us from here. But … it’s hard to explain, though.” He held his chest over his heart, feeling its steady beat through his ribs. “It feels like it’ll be okay. Like there’s good to get out of it. Something bigger than me, bigger than what I know, and that’ll make it worth it. Worth it a million times over, and then some.”
“You think so, huh?” Robbie asked, somehow feeling comforted by Chris’s response, even if just a tiny bit.
“I do. And here’s the weird part. Up until the first time Lavi explained this to me, I hadn’t realized that there’d been a sort of haze in my heart, like a form of anxiety or longing. Now that I know what’s going on, I feel like that funk had been lifted. Being in this situation has brought me peace.”
Robbie didn’t know to laugh or groan, so he did both at once.
“You’re a real piece of work, ya know that?” he told Chris. “But … I trust you.”
The bell rang. Chris and Robbie didn’t react to it right away, standing still until it was finished.
“We’re late for homeroom,” Chris mentioned.
They looked at each other, laughed, and then headed to their respective classes.