The Unanswered Question
It had been a month since four children had exhibited super powers in the small lakeside neighborhood of Madrona. But so few people had seen them demonstrate their powers, it was almost as if it had never happened at all. Signs of normalcy and calm were still everywhere.
“It’s not fair. You can’t be the seeker, you have to be one of the hiders.” Zach explained for the umpteenth time.
“I promise not to cheat.” Binny was laughing as she said the words, her smile making it clear she had no intention of honoring that promise.
A chorus of “Hi Mom”s rang out from the Jordan siblings as they passed their mother coming up the steps to the house, while they ran in the opposite direction.
“Where are you all going?” Julie inquired.
“Oh, hi Mrs. Jordan.” Penny flashed a toothy grin as she brought up the rear of the pack.
“Hi Penny. And please call me Julie.”
“Okaaaaaaay.” Penny’s voice got fainter as she ran past. The last thing Julie could make out was Penny saying, “Well Cassie has to do the seeking. We’ll never find her if she hides.”
Julie continued her ascent onto the porch and towards the front door wondering what the children were debating as they ran down the hill. She almost ran into Jay leaning against the front door frame, arms crossed, smirk on his face, and shaking his head. “I have no idea either.”
Julie and Jay shared a laugh.
“I was just coming by to spend some time with the kids. I’d promised Zach that we would play some chess.” Julie’s smile was still a touch nervous, her statements a little bit tentative.
“Of course. Zach will love that. Are you staying for dinner? It’s grilled cheese and steamed cauliflower night. There’s plenty.” Jay raised his eyebrows in mock enticement.
“Mmmmm, my favorite.” Julie joked, but her eyes showed she was grateful for the warm welcome.
“But I want to play hide-and-seek again!” Cassie whined.
“We’ve already played twice. Dad wants us to get home for dinner. If he has to come get us he’s going to be annoyed.” Binny lectured her sister.
“I don’t care!”
“Hey Cassie, what if we stop and say hi to Rembrandt on the way home.” Penny suggested.
“Ooooh, okay.” Cassie’s tone went from dark and stormy to endless sunshine in a flash.
Binny held her tongue despite the exasperated look on her face. All three girls started the trek towards the edge of the Madrona woods and then home when Binny noticed that Zach was dawdling. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah. You guys go ahead. I’ll catch up. There’s something I want to check really quick first.”
“You want me to wait?” Binny asked.
“Nah. You better go with the princess or she’ll never make it home.” Zach laughed.
Binny gave Zach a knowing look, as she knew all-too-well their sister’s penchant for wandering off at inopportune moments. And then, Binny herself was off running after Penny and Cassie. Zach could hear her yelling “Hey, wait up.” as she got further away.
Zach waited briefly while Binny faded into the distance of the now dusky forest before he traced the path backwards for a couple of minutes. Eventually he caught up with his quarry. “Hey Caleb.”
The late July sun had started its slow descent and Caleb Adams was heading home for the day. He stopped and turned back at Zach’s call, “Who won your game?”
“I don’t know that hide-and-seek has a winner exactly.”
“You raise a good point. I’d never thought about that. What can I do for you, Mr. Jordan?”
Zach looked uncomfortably down at his feet as he stood before Caleb. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
Caleb waited silently.
“I was wondering, well, I was thinking I guess – ” Zach hemmed and hawed, not sure why he was suddenly nervous. “It’s just that Penny has powers, not just me and Cassie and Binny. Penny’s mother didn’t get the drug from Luce Laboratories. So whatever that drug did, if anything, it clearly wasn’t responsible for giving us our powers. So I guess what I’m asking is, where did they come from?”
“And you think I can help you answer this question?” Caleb seemed to be gently enjoying Zach’s awkwardness.
Zach finally looked Caleb straight in the eye, “I do.”
“Well, I do have some notions that I’ve been meaning to share with you and your companions.”
Zach’s pocket buzzed, and then it buzzed again.
“Shouldn’t you get that?” Caleb raised an eyebrow. “I suspect your parents would like you to come home for dinner, no?”
Zach cast a glance at the phone pulled halfway out of his pocket. “Yeah, it’s my dad. I’m late.”
“Well, perhaps another time then.” Caleb smiled and resumed his own trek home.
“Yeah, another time.” Zach said under his breath and headed in the other direction.
July turned to August, a daytrip to the islands was made, and tongues were stained purple from a seemingly endless number of blackberries. Julie Jordan even managed to sneak in a week of chess camp for her children. Penny convinced her mother to sign her up too.
The kids could walk to Julie’s new apartment, it was so close. And despite not sleeping in the Madrona house, Julie seemed to spend even more time there than when she had lived there. There was now the occasional Jordan girls’ slumber party on the floor of Mom’s living room. But in general things had gotten relatively routine.
Binny had even managed to convince her parents to buy her a fifth skateboard. As the summer progressed she would ride through the neighborhood thinking less each day about her parents’ divorce, and more about her new powers. “Are you reading my mind?” Zach would sometimes ask when they were alone together. Despite Binny’s reassurances, Zach could get twitchy and uncomfortable just at the very idea of Binny browsing his private thoughts.
Binny skated her favorite routes on autopilot. Invariably she would end up at one of the many entrances to the Madrona woods. Partly because that’s where most roads in Madrona led, and partly because that’s where she loved to spend time. Binny was so lost in thought she almost ran into the teenage boy crossing the little bridge over the trickle of a stream that bordered this side of the woods. He had red spiky hair, blotchy skin, and a smirk on his face as he drank from a tall silver beer can.
Binny realized that she knew this boy. It was the boy that yelled at Caleb. The boy who let his dog poop in my hideout. The poop I sat in. The humiliation of that day came back to Binny in a tear-streaked rush. This time the boy was all alone.
“Watch where you’re going.” He barked at her.
Binny wasn’t sure what came over her, but she didn’t feel any fear of the boy who was almost ten years her senior. “Why don’t you watch where YOU’RE going?”
“Are you kidding me?” The boy wasn’t used to being challenged. And certainly not by a ten-year-old girl on a skateboard.
“Have you been throwing more empty cans in the forest for someone else to clean up?” Binny shot him an accusatory look.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea, junior police girl: why don’t you go home, play with your dolls, and stay out of the big scary woods.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about you never come back to these woods again and go somewhere where you’re actually wanted.” Binny’s hands were on her hips.
The blotchy boy started laughing. He laughed so much it turned into a cough, and then back into a laugh once he caught his breath. Binny watched him carefully, knowing exactly how small he was trying to make her feel with his endless laughter. Binny thought back to that day when Caleb had stood up to the boy.
The boy’s laughter finally subsiding, he leaned in closer to Binny, “How exactly are you gonna stop me from going anywhere I want?”
“I know what you’re scared of.” Binny didn’t move an inch. “I know what you did that you don’t want your grandfather to find out about. And if you ever come back here, I’ll tell him myself.” Binny’s eyes were slits as she concentrated on the boy looming above her.
At first a look of mild surprise crossed the boy’s face. Then as he digested Binny’s statement, the look blossomed into genuine fear. And at that moment, Binny got exactly what she needed.
“What are you talking about?” The boy demanded.
“Do you think your grandfather would be okay with you driving his car without him knowing?”
“What? How did you?” The boy couldn’t finish his sentences. “You’re a freak.” He started backing away from Binny slowly.
“I’m not a freak. I just don’t like litter.” Binny took a step towards the boy.
“Hey. Stay away from me.” The boy took another step back.
Binny tried to warn him but it was too late. The boy had backed up, lost his footing, and landed sitting right in the little stream. He wasn’t hurt, but the water was already spreading to the front of his jeans. He looked like he’d peed himself.
“Are you okay?” Binny reached out a hand to try and help him up. The boy recoiled from her hand as if it were radioactive and scrambled to his feet. He took one last fearful look at his ten-year-old nemesis and ran, getting as far away from her as he could, as quickly as he was able.
Binny felt bad about what had happened. It’s not that the boy hadn’t deserved it. She just hadn’t intended for him to get quite so scared. Well, maybe he deserved that too. A little water was nothing compared to sitting in poop. So what was really bothering her?
Walking in the woods Binny knew what she really felt bad about. She’d just been thinking about whether it was fair of her to use her powers; whether it was nice to see people’s private thoughts without their permission. Almost immediately after that thought she’d done exactly that to the boy. She hadn’t hesitated even for a moment. Were there times when it was okay for her to use her powers and times when it wasn’t?
As far as Binny knew, she was the first person on Earth ever to have to contemplate this moral dilemma. She couldn’t exactly check “Telepathy and Morality: A Discussion” out of the Madrona library.
The shelter that Caleb had shown the kids had been the perfect replacement for Binny’s rusted out old car. Just as she had with the car, Binny now came to the shelter when she needed to think.
Binny wandered over to the same corner she had weeks before on her first visit to the shelter. The milk crate sat on the shelf just where she’d left it. The Jordan children and Penny had spent lots of time in their new clubhouse since that night they’d spent dodging guards at Luce Laboratories, but she’d never looked back at the Register. The Madrona Heroes Register to be exact – still scrawled in Binny’s handwriting across the cover.
Binny opened the book to the first page where she’d listed the members of their nascent superhero team. Everything was just as she’d left it. A list of team members and their powers.
Cassie Jordan. Random invisibility.
Zach Jordan. Good at remembering alarm codes.
Penny Yang. Good at breaking stuff.
And her name on the last line. Binny Jordan. But after her name something was now written. She was sure she’d left it blank, but there was definitely a word there now. Binny was pretty sure it was in her brother’s handwriting. The last line in the list now read:
Binny Jordan. Leader!