“Back so soon?” One said. One was manning the special request desk this time.
“Thought I’d try another spot in the same book.” Binny said as casually as she could.
“Yes. Your first choice doesn’t last very long, does it.” You want an existing one again or would you like your very own copy this time?”
“How many existing copies are there this time?”
“Also, just the one.” One said. “I guess it’s not that popular a place.”
“It’s no Misselthwaite Manor.” Binny tried to sound casual in her banter with One.
One nodded and sent Binny on her way.
The wheat fields stretched endlessly in every direction. Kansas couldn’t have felt more different than Krypton. At least Binny assumed it was Kansas. The book never explicitly mentioned the name of the small town in which the Kents found the crash-landed Kryptonian ship. And though Binny had never been to Kansas, this place sure looked right.
Binny tried hard not to think about what would happen if her father wasn’t here either. She’d been so sure that he’d be spending time in this book, that she hadn’t given any thought to other methods to find him. Binny worried that she wouldn’t have any other ideas on that front.
Binny put her nervousness out of her mind for the moment and scanned the horizon. The sun was setting so everything was drawn in bright relief. As she spun, she noticed a barn in one direction, and slightly beyond it a house. Binny started walking.
As she walked, Binny noticed smoke coming from the chimney of the house. That was a good sign right? For there to be a fire in the fireplace, there needed to be someone there to light it. At least Binny thought there did. She was never quite sure any more of her assumptions about the Stacks as she had been wrong so often.
But as Binny approached the ramshackle old farmhouse, it did look like there were signs of life. The unintelligible sounds of talking inside. Little noises of people moving about. And the smell… it smelled so good. It smelled like, it smelled, like, well, home. That’s what it smelled like.
Binny rushed through the front door. Two young men, sitting at the kitchen table turned around, startled at her sudden entrance. They couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19. Maybe younger. Neither of them were Binny’s father Jay.
“Hello young lady.” One of the men greeted Binny. He had a stub nose, and heavy stubble on his face. He looked ‘shlumpy’ as Binny’s mother was sometimes prone to say – like his clothes were purchased in all the wrong sizes. “I’m Sammy.”
“And I’m Joe.” The other man introduced himself. He was thin, though it was hard to tell in his baggy suit.
Joe and Sammy looked distinctly ‘old timey’ to Binny. “Oh hi. I’m Binny. I think I’m in the wrong place.”
Crash. Binny’s head snapped around to the source of the sound. Binny looked on the floor and saw the frying pan sitting there, it’s contents spilled beyond its confines. Sunny side up eggs were all over the floor. Standing above the dropped pan, was a man, his eyes wide and his smile ridiculously expansive. The yellow light from the lone light fixture in the kitchen reflected warmly off his mostly bald head.
“Hello sweetie.” And then turning to Joe and Sammy. “Guys. This is Binny. This is my daughter!”
Binny could hardly get a word in for the first minute. Partly because Jay was asking her so many questions and partly because he was squeezing her so hard in an extended bear hug. When she finally wriggled free she said, “Dad. Dad. Give me a minute, and I’ll explain.”
“OK. OK. I’m sorry. I’ll calm down. Let me just clean up the mess.” Jay Jordan tried to dampen his excitement.
“Breakfast for dinner?” Binny remarked.
“That’s what he always does,” Sammy complained jokingly.
“Do they not cook regular meals in your universe?” Joe asked.
“Hey, I ate your mother’s prune meatloaf didn’t I?” Jay responded from his crouch.
“Breakfast is his favorite meal,” Binny said.
“I like breakfast too, but you don’t see me eating it during dinner time,” Sammy said more seriously.
“Well, I can’t create any new recipes here, so you’re just gonna have to be okay with what I already know how to make.” Jay changed the subject, turning to his daughter. “Binny, I’m dying to know. How did you find me?” Jay asked as he started the dinner preparation over again.
“Well, I went to Krypton first.”
“Oh no. You didn’t,” Jay fretted.
“It’s okay, I hurried out of there before things came apart. I first thought you’d be there.”
“I thought so too, but this is really the birthplace. Not Krypton. I’ve long thought that the Kents were really where Superman learns his values.”
“It’s both you know. The fathers’ different influences make for some interesting parallels,” Joe insisted.
“I think I agree with Jay here. I don’t see how a baby Kal-El could have gotten any significant influence from his Kryptonian parents,” Sammy said.
“You sure did find your people here, Dad.” Binny interrupted the flow before it turned into a full-fledged academic debate.
“Yeah. I did. Joe here is an illustrator too.”
“And when are you gonna start drawing comics, my friend?” Sammy said. And then added quickly, “In your book I mean. Not here of course.”
Binny felt a pang thinking of her recent ‘transgression’ and decided not to mention it. She didn’t want to disappoint her father. Did he even count as her father?
“Well, it’s not really up to me is it. And besides, unlike you gentlemen, I’m not the star of my book. Binny is.”
“She’s a superhero eh?” Sammy examined Binny. “Where’s her costume?”
“I never said whether she was or wasn’t a superhero. I keep telling you, you’re gonna have to read the book,” Jay said.
“Yeah yeah.” Joe said. I will. I promise. “Are you the one that turns invisible?”
“No. That’s my sister Cassie,” Binny answered.
“What’s your power then?” Joe asked.
Binny paused, reading her father’s expression, “You’ll have to read it to find out. Maybe I don’t even get one.” Binny felt good having earned her father’s approving gaze.
“I’m not sure about this whole superheroes in actual books thing. What good is it without the drawings?” Joe complained.
“You can read comics here in the Library.” Sammy sounded like he’d made the argument many times before.
“Oh yeh, and what they’ve done to comics these days. If I drew people in so few clothes I’d be arrested,” Joe said. “But that’s not the problem. I want to go inside the comic books.”
“Yeah, that would be fantastic,” Jay chimed in.
All three men looked dreamy for a moment fantasizing about entering the worlds of the comic books they so loved.
Binny loved her father, but at this moment, she felt like she was meeting his thirteen-year-old self. And it made her feel a little bit on her own, and a little more grown up than she had wanted to be just now.
She’d come seeking her father’s assistance. She’d come to tell him what she’d found out about the Stacks. About what happens when nobody reads your book. But he seemed entirely pre-occupied with exploring the worlds of the superheroes he loved. And he’d found these two guys who shared his obsession. It wasn’t what she expected.
“Dad. I need to talk to you,” Binny interrupted their reverie.
“Of course sweetie.” Jay served the eggs to Joe and Sammy and took Binny out to the porch to sit and talk in the last shreds of day light.
The air was sweet and smelled like nothing Binny had ever known. She thought back to how much time she’d spent in the country, and it couldn’t remember a time. Binny screwed up her courage. “Can I ask you a question?”
Binny furrowed her brow at the nickname but plowed on. “Are you my dad? I mean, my real dad?”
“Of course I am honey. What kind of a question is that?” Jay said.
“Then why haven’t you come looking for me?”
Jay looked like he’d been punched in the stomach. He started speaking and then stopped before any words came out two or three times before he finally found something he could actually say. “Honey. I wanted to. But everyone told me it was impossible.” Jay thought for a moment. “And besides, I get to see you every day in the book.”
“They told me the same thing. But I found you didn’t I?” Binny said.
“You did.” Jay looked at his daughter with a bittersweet mixture of pride and regret. “I think you know me better than I know you. I’m not sure I would have known where to look.”
“Mom would have known where to look.” Binny said. Her eyes gave extra weight to her implicit accusation. “You haven’t seen her. Have you.”
“Not yet. But I’m sure I will.” Jay said. And then thinking quickly he added. “But I saw your friend Penny. We just waved as she walked by. She was hanging out with a bunch of girls who seemed very into sports. I think she was learning how to surf. In Hawaii no less! Isn’t this place amazing?”
“And you haven’t seen Zach or Cassie either, have you.” Binny’s mood was getting progressively darker.
“Binny, I haven’t. But I’m sure I will. Zach is probably battling dragons somewhere, and Cassie, well, who knows. She’s probably a rock star here too. The Stacks, they’re just so incredible. You can do anything you want.”
“No Dad. You can’t.” Binny said. “You can’t make anything new here.”
“Oh that? Why would you want to? Everything is provided for us. And all we have to do is show up in our books every day.” Jay said. “They even laughed at me for wanting to cook, but now we do it once a week here at the Kent farm. Sammy and Joe think it’s quaint. But I think it’s fun.”
“Dad. I think something is off here. Aren’t you worried about what happens if nobody reads our book?”
“Don’t worry honey. Sammy and Joe will read it. They just get so engrossed in their arguments they haven’t had a chance yet. I’m living in Wayne Manor. Wayne Manor Binny I drove the goddamn batmobile!”
“No Dad. I mean if nobody in the real world reads our book. Aren’t you worried about what will happen then?”
Jay Jordan looked at his fictitious daughter earnestly. “Why does that matter?”
At that moment something clicked in Binny’s mind. Jay was her father. And he loved her. But he really wasn’t. Back in Madrona, Jay would do anything for her. But here in the Stacks, he’d become kind of a, well, a child. Binny didn’t have the heart to tell her father what happened if nobody read their book. He was having so much fun.
“You know what Dad? It doesn’t.”
“That’s the spirit sweetie. We’re so lucky to have found this place. We should enjoy it to its fullest.”
Binny told Jay about her adventures so far, though she left out the parts where she got in trouble, or had found out scary things about their new home. She felt like she was editing her story so as not to scare a small child. But in this case, the child was her father.
Was he her father? He was and he wasn’t. Binny couldn’t help think about the author of her book – Madrona Heroes. Hermione had implied that their authors were like Gods. But the more that Binny thought of it, she found herself coming back to a recurring theme in her mind. Maybe Binny’s real father was her author.
Of course, whether that was true or not, it was a wholly unhelpful notion. As had been made very clear by Two – authors were not welcome in the Stacks. Even the few who’d tried, by inserting themselves into their fictional universes had been stopped at the gates and sent to ‘Diyu’. Were there gates?
Binny hugged her book dad, promised she would visit, and said goodbye to his friends Sammy and Joe, and left Clark Kent’s boyhood home. Ever since she’d gotten to the Stacks she’d harbored hope of reuniting her family. She’d felt that she would eventually rebuild a safe environment on which she could depend. But now, for the first time, she truly felt alone.