365 Days Ago
“I hate my name.” Someone had told me that it was always good to start out the day with a positive statement. I forget who it was, but they were pretty smart, so I took the advice. I was positive that I hated my name.
“What’s wrong with it, Savvy?” That was my best friend, Aldridge Ken. He of the reversed first and last names, and don’t think that hasn’t confused every teacher who has ever seen the name written down. It was doubly fun to watch a gym teacher, who typically called everyone by their last names, try to sort out which one he should refer to Aldridge as.
Exceedingly tall and lanky, Aldridge didn’t tend to get along very well with any of the gym teachers anyway. They kept expecting him to be good at basketball because he was so much closer to the net than anyone else in school. At only seventeen, he’s just a hair under seven feet tall. He could walk to the basket with the ball in his outstretched hand and no one could ever take it from him. But here’s the problem, the rules don’t exactly allow you to do that. At some point that ball has to touch the ground. Then, after it hits the ground, it has to make it back to his hand before once more hitting the ground. I’m told this is called dribbling. I have seen children as young as five do this to some extent with little trouble. But in Aldridge’s case, this is where it all falls apart. Because at some point between the ball hitting the ground and reaching his hand once more, he would have found a way to make it smack him in the face, rebound off his foot, bowl over a group of nuns, and knock a pile of stereos into a swimming pool of orphans.
He is not the most coordinated teenager on the planet, is what I’m saying.
At the moment, as we walked toward school, Aldridge was peering at me through a thick and unruly mane of blond hair that kept falling into his eyes. When I say he was peering at me, I mean down at me. Very, very down. Even though I’m fairly average in height, at just about the exact midpoint between five and six feet, his incredible height meant that he was still a solid foot and a half above me.
“I like the name Savannah,” he said then, pushing a hand back through his wild blond hair. The hairs obscuring his face scattered through his long fingers, regrouped, and instantly fell right back where they’d been. I know rabid cannibal badgers that are easier to tame than that mop. Actually, taming the rabid cannibal badgers is a good story, but it doesn’t happen for a long time yet. So just be patient.
“Not Savannah,” I answered, taking the time to shoot a text message to Gesmine, another friend. I had to ask her if we were still studying after school. “My last name. I hate it. Crest? Can you even comprehend how many people have given me toothpaste and thought they were being clever? Or quoted those stupid commercials? Or asked if my parents are dentists? There’s no end to it! I want to change it.”
“Okay, so what would you change it to?” Aldridge asked, before yelping as he walked right through the extended branches of a tree, no doubt startling a family of birds into thinking a random giraffe had gotten lost and migrated across continents. He spat several leaves and twigs aside before waving a hand as he continued, “If you could.”
“Given the choice?” My own light brown eyes, a match to my hair, moved away from him as a blush touched my face. “You know what I’d change it to.” My phone gave the short, sharp tingling bell noise for the incoming message from Gesmine. Apparently we were still meeting up at the library, though she was going to be half an hour late. That was okay, I had plans.
“Yeah,” Aldridge’s tone was lightly teasing. “But I don’t think ‘Mrs. Paragon’ has a very good ring to it. Besides, it’s probably not his legal name. He looks like a Grant, or a Roddenberry.”
Still blushing, I had to squint at that. “Roddenberry?”
“Hey, he was a great man too. A visionary.” Aldridge was a big sci-fi fan.
“He’s not a Roddenberry,” I argued. “He’s got to have a good, strong last name. Like Dyson or Ford. Maybe Grant. But definitely not Roddenberry.”
“Lucas?” He offered with a goofy little smile. “He could be a Lucas, that’s a pretty strong last name. Savannah Lucas. Hey that one even sounds good.” The boy grinned, proud of himself. “You could totally pull off Savannah Lucas.”
“It’s not bad,” I admitted. “Still, I’m not sure it’s exactly right. I want it to be his name. Because he has to notice me. He has to see me and not look through me. I want to be special.” When the boy opened his mouth, I shot him a glare. “If what you’re about to say can be summarized by an after school special, don’t even think about it.” Aldridge obediently closed his mouth, and I kept going, “I want to be his kind of important. I want to be special to him.”
We were almost to school, and Aldridge stopped at the next corner. “That’s a pretty tall order,” He reluctantly cautioned. “I mean, he’s the most powerful superhero on the planet. The guy can shot-put tanks, Savvy. You know I love you but…” He paused to examine his words. “But I just think you might be a little too focused on this.” His hands came up quickly. “I’m not saying don’t reach high. You want to be the kind of person that Paragon notices, that’s great. But don’t be in such a rush to become someone else, that you completely abandon everything that’s you.” That same quirky little smile then. “I kinda like the you we already have.”
Both of us were blushing then. Aldridge and I have been friends since the fourth grade, back when he was only around the height I am now. We’ve never had any kind of romantic thoughts about each other. I can say that with one hundred percent certainty on my end and almost the same amount on his, considering we told each other everything. Obviously, he knew about my incredibly stupid but unrelenting crush on Paragon, and I knew about his crush on Laine Gavin, the school’s resident track and swim star. Say what you want about his crush at least being our age, but I’ve seen Laine in a bikini, and we’re both reaching far beyond our means. But just because we aren’t about to start pining after each other doesn’t mean we don’t both occasionally say something to make both of us blush. It’s complicated.
“Yeah yeah,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “Shut up and go already. You know you want to get there in time to see Laine get in from the morning run.”
His face brightened at the thought, and then he frowned. “Savvy, you don’t have to go into town today. Just because he’s speaking at that opening…” Trailing off, the boy heaved a sigh. “But you aren’t going to listen to logic, are you?” He asked, mournfully.
“Would you listen to logic if Laine asked you to take her to the next swim meet in her own stupidly expensive Porsche just because someone pointed out that you still can’t drive?” I shot back.
“Hey, I resent that.” Aldridge sniffed. “Just because I’ve never driven before doesn’t mean I’m incapable of it. Maybe I’m a hidden prodigy. I could be the next Dominic Toretto.”
“He’s imaginary.” I noted.
“The next Speed Racer.”
“Even more imaginary.”
“The next Optimus Prime.”
“I really think you’re failing to understand the concept here.”
“Nah,” He said with a grin. “I just think it’d be really cool to be Optimus Prime.”
“Goof.” I shoved him, trying not to laugh. “But I’m going. I have to. It’s my chance to get him to notice me. I mean, how often do we know exactly where he’s going to be? I have to go.”
Giving me a long look, I was afraid that, somehow, Aldridge would figure out what I was planning. He’d stop me, if he had any idea. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I wish he had figured it out. I wish he had forced me to go to school with him that day. But even as good of friends as we always were, even he couldn’t read my mind. “Okay,” he said with a sigh. “But just be careful. I hope you get an autograph or something, Savvy. Let me know how it goes.”
“I will.” I smiled and leaned up to kiss the highest point I could reach, somewhere around the middle of his chest. I guess Laine has a step ladder in his imaginary make-out sessions, because she’s at least an inch shorter than me. “Now go to class and cover for me.” I gave him a push once more before stepping back. “I’ve got a bus to catch and a superhero to whoo.”
“Why do people always say things like that?” He wondered. “Cover for you? What am I supposed to do, crochet a hand puppet and pretend you’re sitting in my lap? Arrange your books on your desk and inform the teachers that you’re invisible and mute for the day? Rent a monkey and tell everyone you had a terrible allergic reaction to your new vitamin supplement?”
“Uhhh, pick one.” I waved before turning to run down the street. “Gotta catch that bus!”
“But I don’t even know how to crochet!” His shout echoed after me.
An hour and three buses later, I was downtown. The great Paragon, he of such incredible strength, power, and kindness that my heart tripped all over itself whenever I saw so much as his name in print, was scheduled to appear at the opening of the new hospital that had been named after him. I had to be there. Well, more to the point, I had to be near there. I had to be within what I knew to be his earshot. Because I had a plan. A stupid, selfish, horrible plan, to get the man to notice me.
I was such a moron.
After leaving the last bus, rather than pressing in with the thousands of people gathered around the hospital, I made my way instead to a nearby building. Housing the offices of one of the nation’s biggest insurance empires, the building was fifty three stories tall. Fifty three stories at about ten feet per story was about five hundred and thirty feet. Plenty of time for what I had in mind to work. And if it didn’t… Well, it would. I had absolute faith in Paragon.
It should have been harder to sneak past security in the building, but everyone was watching the side windows to see the moment the man himself arrived. I was able to just walk past the desk that the guard should have been sitting at, hit the up button at the elevator, and then step on when it arrived. All without being noticed. I felt like a super spy. Really, I was just a stupid little girl who was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.
The entire ride up to the top floor, I was psyching myself up. “You can do it. He’s right there. He’s going to be amazing. You know he can hear that far. Hell, he’ll probably see it from there. No problem. This is like taking an old lady across the street for him.”
Moving off the elevator once the doors opened, I looked around the empty corridor. To the right was a plainly labeled door. Roof access. That’s just what I wanted. Quickly, before anyone could notice me, or before I could lose my nerve, I ran to the door and pushed through. Finding the stairs, I made my way up and out the door there onto the roof of the building. There was a piece of concrete next to the door that I guessed people used to prop it open so they could go out here for their smoke breaks. No one was here currently. Thank god. I’d hate to have my monumental idiocy prevented.
God I wish someone had been out there.
Stepping to the edge of the roof, I looked down to where the hospital courtyard was. So many people had gathered around the place to see the great hero that I had thought that the central area would be hard to see. But the people planning the event had cleared a large area around the grass in front of the new hospital for him, where they had set up a podium. Everyone eagerly awaited his arrival.
I didn’t have to wait long. A shout went up, and then another, as a bright blue and white blur shot over the heads of the gathered crowd. A second later, he set down. Paragon. The crisp white of his uniform with its blue accents and his symbol. That glorious blonde hair, amazing smile. No I couldn’t see it from where I was, but I knew he was smiling. He really was an example of perfection, just like his name.
With both feet on the edge of the roof, I watched for a moment as the great man moved toward the podium, giving everyone a friendly wave. I didn’t want to wait too long. As certain as I was that he’d be there for me, and that he’d save me, I didn’t want to push my luck by letting him be distracted in his speech.
“You can do this, Sacvanah. Do it, Savvy.” I told myself, looking down at the ground to see how high up I was. That was a mistake. Vertigo swelled in me and I nearly toppled over right then. I felt a violent burst of nausea and tried to keep it down. “Do it.” I repeated. “Just do it.” Taking a breath, I shook in fear and shot a glance toward the man I thought I loved only because I had only a pathetic little child’s understanding of love. A schoolgirl crush.
Seeing the man that I knew would save me steeled my resolve just enough. Still nearly throwing up, I stuck one foot out over the open air. Almost crying in fear already, I rocked forward on my remaining foot. Swaying a little like that in hesitation, I finally let go. Pushing off the rest of the way, I let myself fall. And I screamed. I don’t even think I said his name, though I had planned to. I just screamed, incoherently and in absolute terror.
Yeah, it’s me.
I’m the girl that Paragon caught that day. The day he died. I’m the girl they never found afterward. The last one that saw him alive.
More importantly, I saw who was responsible for his death. Who besides me was on that roof. I saw which of his supposed friends and allies was there that day.
I saw who betrayed and murdered the greatest superhero in the world.