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The West End

Silberman's Books

June 14, 6:00 PM

For a minute there
I lost myself, I lost myself
Phew, for a minute there
I lost myself, I lost myself

 

The smooth sound of Thom Yorke’s voice filtered through Serena’s car speakers as she pulled up onto Pratt, looking for Silberman’s Books. As she spotted the store-front, she sighed to herself in relief. This was her last delivery of the day, and she was looking forward to the chance to finally relax after this. Normally, she engaged in superheroics after work, but today had been a bit of a mess and thus all she wanted to do was get in the shower and sleep like the dead.

 

They sell coffee here, she thought to herself. Maybe I should pick one up.

 

Pulling to a stop next to the store, Serena compulsively double-checked to make sure there wasn’t “no parking” sign to saddle her with a ticket she couldn’t afford. That’d really mess up her week. Safe. She disconnected her phone from the blue-tooth, and stuffed it into her front-right pocket before twisting the keys and yanking them out of the ignition, then headed to the back.

 

The first thing she grabbed was her collapsible dolley, kicking it down to its full size before she loaded the three boxes down onto it. The delivery was a bunch of copies of some weirdo French, In My Name or And Numina or something. Not really her wheelhouse. Her ex, Pete, was into that stuff but he was never really able to get her into it like he was. The moment the math started, she was off into her own little world.

 

Slamming her trunk shut, she locked the car - three times just to be safe - and began wheeling the dolley up the very convenient wheel-chair ramp and into the store. She looked around, seeing the magic posters, and whistled to herself. She used to spend more time in bookstores, back when Mia was younger, but these days she never had time to read. She kind of missed it. Used to be she’d never miss a Stephen King, but these days she wasn’t even caught up on the movies.

 

She headed toward the front, wanting to get things done quickly. She was dressed in a baby blue blouse with the sleeves rolled up, showing off her colourful Bosnian flag wrapped around her right forearm and the cut-off depiction of a fanciful battle on her left. Her jeans had a tear in the right knee, but this wasn’t a fashion statement so much as a reflection of the fact that she needed to make every pair of pants last as long as possible, while her worn Docs had seen better days. She had made the decision to mostly eschew make-up today, wearing only some winged eyeliner, while her hair was tied up in a messy bun.

 

Hey, I got a delivery for a… Lynn Epstein?” She said, her voice a rough contralto.

 

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"Coming, coming, coming," a pleasant voice called out from the depths of the store; it's owner was a woman who looked to be in her early thirties, about Serena's height but much lighter build. Shoulder-length curly brown hair, big brown eyes, very cute and elfin. She was wearing a vintage Disney T-shirt showing Princess Jasmine, loose jeans and a pair of pink Nikes, all under a brown Silberman's Books apron. 

 

As she got closer, the delivery woman noticed two things about the bookstore owner: the woman was very light on her feet, and much more attractive up close. Flashing a breathy smile, she brushed a lock of hair out her eyes and pulled a pen out of her apron pocket. "Hi, I'm Lynn; welcome to Silbermans! Whadda we got today?" Her accent was pure South Jersey, which was somewhat at odds with her appearance; one could almost picture her singing to a bluebird perched on her finger.

Edited by Heritage

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Over in the corner, a tanned guy of what looked like early middle age was drinking coffee while his tween-age daughter played with her phone. In new jeans and a denim shirt with the name RICHARD over his breast pocket, Richard frowned paternally at Holly and said out loud, "Honey, do you actually need to text anything to those people?" She looked up at him and gave him what looked like an eloquent glare., then went back to her texting. With a loud sigh, he peered at his daughter over his big mirrorshades. "Very eloquent, honeylamb." She glared at him again, he gave her a challenging look, and with a great and elaborate sigh she set her phone down. 

 

"You're so old, Dad." She wasn't too old to take a drink of the whipped cream topped hot chocolate sitting by her elbow, though, which made Richard smile. Holly really was blossoming into a beautiful young woman, with blonde hair that reminded him of his own mother and big dark eyes that came right from Paige. "It's not polite to talk to people without asking-" 


"Hey, Richard Cline!" A young guy, god, how young? Twenty, maybe? had walked up to Richard and Holly with a big smile on his face. "Can I take a selfie with you?" he asked, holding up his phone. Richard frowned - but then the guy looked at him and said, "...oh, sorry, must have mistaken you for somebody else. My bad, man." The guy clapped Richard on the arm, walked away, and Holly sipped her drink, looking very pleased with herself. 

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Serena smiled at the woman, before looking over at the listing on top of the boxes. "Roleplaying games. In Nomine," she said, mispronouncing it as "In Noh-myne", not really knowing Latin. She then produced her phone, swapping it from the picture of her holding Mia from when her daughter was still a baby, and pulling up the signature app she needed. "Can you just do me a favour and sign here so they know you received the order?" She handed over a stylus, smiling at the woman.

 

Then, she heard the name Richard Cline. Instinctively, she looked in the direction, and she felt a pit in her stomach form. Not a lot of people active in the time she was were around anymore, so she normally didn't have to worry about running into them. But every time she did, an overwhelming sense of dread overtook her. Sure, she was reformed. But it didn't make things any easier. She felt her throat go a little dry.

 

Come on, Serena, she thought. It's been 25 years and you were a teenager. He's not gonna recognize you. You didn't even interact directly. Just don't make eye contact.

 

Crap.

 

You made eye contact.

 

She stopped, and then looked back at Lynn. She didn't even know if the woman had signed anything. "So," she said, suddenly paler. "Nice place."

Edited by Shofet

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Richard glanced over at the woman across the way and blinked. It took him a few minutes to figure out exactly what, or rather, who he was looking at - but it helped that time had been kind to the former teen villain. Geez. Guess she got the good super-genes too. That was...Christ, I have no idea. It had been a long time since 1993, and he lacked his wife's encyclopedic memory for faces. 


"She''s Revolt," whispered Holly, still looking smug. "Don't you ever go on Wikipedia?" 

 

Richard shot his daughter a look and whispered, "Young lady we will talk about that at home," tapping the side of his head. "And you know the rules. We give people privacy if they want privacy." 

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Serena grimaced. Now the girl was looking at her, too. She told herself that she should just accept the signature and get on out of there, but it was pretty clear she had been caught. Sighing to herself, she looked over at the girl next to Cline. She could see the resemblance. She quirked her mouth to the side, and then finally relented. There was no avoiding.

 

"I see you staring, and yes, it's me."

 

"Try to avoid these kind of meetings," then she looked sympathetically back at Ms. Epstein. "Sorry, we know each other from... an old job."

 

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Holly was well-trained enough to look to her dad for approval - and though the look on his face wasn't technically permission, she rose to her feet anyway to walk over to Serena and Lynn. Holly still had the gawkiness of a girl in her early teens, but confidence in her eyes as she looked Serena over. Her dad joined her, perhaps a bit more quickly than was natural, about the time Serena leaned up on top of the counter and said, "Hi there. I'm Holly Cline." She shook Serena's hand, then Lynn's. "I guess you know my dad!" she told the others cheerfully. 

 

"Yeah, we're all one big happy family here in Freedom," said Richard as he stepped up to join the group, taking off his sunglasses and sliding them into his jacket pocket. "Richard Cline," he said, introducing himself to Serena first. "I'm sorry if we embarrassed you just now - we don't get to see a lot of people from the trade." 

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"In NOM-in-e," Lynn quietly sang in a sort of Duddley Do-Right voice as she signed for the books. "Hey, do you wanna coffee or something for the road? My treat." But then she noticed the driver stiffen, and looked between her and known crimefighter-turned-celebrity Richard Cline. "Oh. Oh! Do you know him from-" She discretely made two 'okay' signs and put one over each eye. "'The life'?"

 

The changeling was trying to be all cool and on the DL, but then Fast-Forward and his daughter (had to be) started heading over, and now they were all having a moment. "Nice to meet you, Holly, and yes, I know your dad." She looked over to Holly's father and inclined her head. "Richard."

 

Well, this sure is all kinda awkward.

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Serena merely nodded at Lynn, before looking over at Holly. She did sort of know her dad. He was one of the few villains who weren't blood-soaked lunatics when she was a kid, and was a famous turn-around from the villain-life. When she was doing the whole villain thing herself, he was a bit of an inspiration. God knows she used enough references to him not killing when arguing with Adrian back in the day. 

 

"Good to meet you, Holly, I'm Serena Mustafic," she said. Then she looked up at Richard, and smiled at him. "Nah, it's fine, I get it. I'm a little gun-shy about getting recognized, since, well, you know. But it was gonna happen eventually, and you know. There's worse people who could than you."

 

She paused, then looked at Lynn. "You said something about coffee?"

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Holly watched the exchange with a polite smile on her face, but her eyes were dancing as she watched the interplay between her father and the other two heroes. 

 

"Richard, huh?" said Richard with a smile at Lynn. "Well I guess it beats what people used to call me around here. Here," he offered to Serena, "lemme buy you that coffee." His wallet was out, and so was money, before he'd finished speaking. "I haven't heard about you in a long time. You ever get a chance to work out?" he asked Serena, leaning on the glass case next to which he stood. "There's plenty of places for that around Freedom." 

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Lynn shrugged. "Whatever you say." Then she gracefully slid behind the counter, adding a little spin to it; she must have had serious dance training once upon a time. "Dark roast okay? You look like you take it black." Once she had the drink order ready, she slid it on over. "Here ya go."

 

The shapeshifter was starting to figure some of all this out; more than likely, this Serena was a baddie back in the day, and she and Cline had a history, a bit like running into your ex at the grocery store. Whatever was going down, it was definitely interesting, so she did her best to remain a part of the conversation.

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Serena smiled appreciatively at Lynn when she handed over the coffee. Black dark roast was how she took it, normally. Had been ever since she was a teenager. Then she nodded to Richard. It was nice to have someone pay for her, considering how tight money could be, even at the best of times. Sure, it was probably only a dollar or two, but that meant she could get another coffee some other time. 

 

"I've uh... Been busy. Became a mom, sorta took up most of my time. And, uh... Working out. Yeah," she said, rubbing the back of her neck. "Sometimes. Hard to balance it with the job, but wanna set a good example for my girl. She was starting to get a little unhealthy and I was worried it was my fault, a bit."

 

The amount of innuendo was driving her nuts, but with Lynn there, she wasn't entirely willing to spill exactly who she was. Especially now that she had given out her real name. She also hoped that it was clear that she was on the straight and narrow now, to Cline. Last thing she needed was a supe thinking she was back to her old ways. 

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"Yeah, I hear that," commented Richard as he paid with some slightly rumpled fives - enough for a tip. "We've got three now; Will's in college, and Holly's just going to high school, and, uh, Bryant who's three. Kids learn this stuff from their parent." Holly looked at her father and Richard gave her a look. "Honey, not now," before going on. "I haven't heard about you in Freedom much, but we spend a lot of time out in LA still for the show. My wife's actually out there this week doing some second-unit filming." 

 

"How old's your daughter?" asked Holly of Serena. "Is she your only kid?" 

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Serena sipped her coffee, weirdly (at least to others) unbothered by the heat of it when it probably should have scalded her. Then, she fiddled with the cup, looking down into the oily swirls in the blackness. 

 

"Yeah, I haven't been doing anything for long. Just... Uh... Small stuff really. Hate attention," she said, rolling back her shoulders. "She's, ah... Well, she's 15 now, and gonna be 16 right as September starts and she goes off to school. She's my only kid and kinda my life. My ex-husband and I, we talked about having more, but we kinda fell apart before we could have more and I've kinda favoured ladies more since him so the opportunity for more never came up, and now, it's like, I'm 40, and it's not like I have time to stop and take time off for being pregnant."

 

She stopped, and then smirked. "Sorry. Sorta rambled there." She then looked to Lynn. "How about you, Ms. Epstein? You got any rugrats?"

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Up until this point, Lynn had been following the conversation with bemuses interest. She liked Serena; to be honest, she reminded her a lot of Gretchen, which probably meant the two of them would absolutely hate each other. She was just imagining how such an awkward meeting might go when the deliverywoman innocently asked her about kids, and the blood drained out of her face. In fact, Lynn's eyes, skin and hair almost seemed to take on a duller tone.

 

"Uh, th-three kids," she stammered as she began wringing her hands. "Ruthie, Zach and Jon-Jon. Ruth and Zach were, uh, twins, and Jon-Jon was born...uh, seven years later." She squeezed her eyes shut in a desperate attempt to hold back tears. "I don't...I can't see them anymore." She swallowed and grimaced. "They asked me to leave."

 

Then something rather shocking happened; Lynn stammered out a muffled 'excuse me', then vaulted over the counter in a graceful arc worthy of an Olympic gymnast, rushed to the door of the manager's office and slammed it shut, making all the customers in the store jump. They looked to one another, shrugged, and returned to their reading.

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Serena watched Lynn's face as she responded, and she almost immediately realized she had messed up in a major way. It became even more apparent when the woman pulled some pretty impressive moves and vaulted on off into her office. She looked at Richard for a moment, as if at a loss for what to do, then looked at her dolley. She could have left right then and there. But that would have been wrong. She knew what this kind of pain was, for better or for worse, and she figured it was only right to try and fix her mess.

 

She walked slowly to the manager's office door, feeling tentative. She wasn't exactly sure what the right thing to do here was. Honestly, she could be throwing gasoline on the fire, but on the other hand, doing nothing could also make it bad. How would she feel if she broke down about Mia's crime problem and then people just left? Probably not very good.

 

Gently, she rapped on the door. "Uh... Ms. Epstein? I'm sorry about what happened with your kids. I get it. It's hard to be a mom. My daughter and I went through a really rough patch recently and I thought we'd never get over it, but uh... we did. And like, my dad and I didn't speak for 20 years and it took a long time to repair things. Not that it's really eq... Look, I'm sorry. I'd feel like a real heel just leaving you in there though, and I just wanna make sure you're okay."

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There was a pause, then Serena heard footsteps approaching the door. When it opened, she was face to face with...a perfectly composed Lynn. Her makeup was flawless, no redness or puffy eyes, and the healthy glow was back.  "I'm sorry about that; your question just caught me off-guard, is all."

 

She sighed deeply, then motioned for the Clines to join her in the office. Then she called out towards the back room. "Lance, can you cover the counter for a few?"

 

"I hear and I obey, O mistress," a male voice called back.

 

Lynn sighed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, ha ha; I'll be quick, I promise."

 

A big beefy blonde man came up from the back, wiping off his hands on a towel. He was dressed like a college athlete, but with the addition of a bandana covered with little teddy bears on his head. "Nah, it's cool," he said with an affable wave. "Dishes are almost done anyway."

 

Now relieved of her counter duties, she motioned for her three guests to come in and have a seat.

 

The room was cozy, with bookcases on all the walls. A massive desk dominated the center of the room, behind which was an old high-backed leather chair. On the desk itself was a green and brass banker's light, a somewhat older-looking tower PC with a flat screen monitor, and a bowl of candy. Two leather chairs that matched the one behind the desk were provided for guests. Wherever there wasn't a book, there was a magic poster or odd knickknack, and a pair of exotic-looking firearms, a rifle and a revolver, were mounted on the wall above Lynn's head.

 

"Please, sit. Help yourselves to the candy."

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Richard had been planning to leave -- whatever heavy business was going on here, it wasn't anything Holly needed to be involved in. But when Lynn gestured for them all to join them, and Holly shot him a pleading look, the two of them headed inside. He worried sometimes that too much weird stuff growing up had left Holly with a tendency to view everyone's problems as just exciting superhero drama for her amusement; but on the other hand, there was nothing like telepathy to teach you empathy. Holly followed her dad inside, sitting down while Richard stood, and did indeed help herself to a handful of candy. "Hey, this is the same kind of candy Nana Cline keeps at her house," she offered as she unwrapped one of the little gold foil packets. 

 

"Yeah, well, Ma's a real sugar hound," said Richard. "She's gonna give herself diabetes if she keeps it up." 

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Serena was taken aback, to say the least. The woman recovered faster than Serena thought possible, but she didn't think too hard about it. She followed Lynn into the office, all the while wondering how a routine delivery had somehow turned into this. She took her seat, shifting to get comfortable as she took a look around. The place had a similar feel to the rest of the shop. Out of time. Still, not that out of the ordinary. As Richard and Holly entered, she found herself a little bit relieved that they hadn't cut and run.

 

After taking another pull from her coffee cup, she picked up a candy and unwrapped it, tossing it into her mouth, watching Lynn all the while. She didn't know what the woman was planning, and curiosity was getting the best of her. Was all this to talk about her kids in private?

 

"So, uh... Sorry again," she said. "I get that it's hard."

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Lynn sunk deep into her chair, which made her look like a little kid pretending to be a CEO. Her big brown eyes flicked from Serena, to Richard and then Holly, the sight of whom made her smile. Then she sat up a little straighter and cleared her throat. "Uh, sorry, I didn't really have a plan here, I was just getting tired of all the verbal gymnastics."

 

She jerked a thumb in the deliverywoman's direction.

 

"You were straining so hard, I thought you were going to pull something."

 

And then, with a casual wave of her hand, Lynn summoned a mouthwatering banana split into existence, covered in whipped cream, cherries and peanuts. It filled a long glass bowl, and four thin wooden spoons stuck out of it in different directions

 

"Anyone want in on this? This is way too much for just me."

 

Lynn was entirely nonchalant as she indicated Serena with a wave of her spoon.

 

"So Serena, you were talking about how hard it is to raise a teenager as both a single mother and an ex-supervillain, I think? Seriously, guys, dig in."

Edited by Heritage

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Holly studied the bowl intently, her brow furrowing, then snapped her fingers. "Oh! You really are magic." She took a few bites of the ice cream, smiling.  She kept eating, talking around her bites of "It's good! My dad does magic sometimes, but not like this, it's all explosions and star powers and stuff." She gestured with her spoon. 

 

"Yeah, well, when you've been in the business long enough, you pick a few things up," said Richard with a wave. "As for being a super-parent, it's...it's a hard life. My ma did it solo and that was hard for her," he went on, talking to Serena. "I couldn't have done it without my wife." 

 

"Yeah, that's how it works, Dad!" said Holly cheerfully. 

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Serena stared at the bowl summoned before her, brow furrowed. She sighed sharply through her nose. "Oh for fu-uh-uuudges sake," she said, eyes drifting to Holly for a moment, before going back to Lynn. "You're a supe. Of course. " She ran her fingers through her hair, exasperated. Of course, nothing in her life could be remotely mundane.

 

"Anyway," she began. "Pete's... still in Mia's life. We alternate custody. We even get along, just uh... We weren't in love anymore. We rushed into it and it was... Well, I was looking for something stable after my time in jail." She quirked her mouth to the side, looking down at her hands. "If you're expecting me to show off my powers, they're not the kind you'd wanna use in a book store. Or anywhere that catches fire real easy."

 

"I'm uh, I used to be Revolt. Iunno if you even know what that means," she said sheepishly. "I try not to advertise it considering, well, you know."

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Lynn rolled her eyes at Holly's joke, then stuck out her tongue at her; it was bright purple, about a foot long, and had a weird fleshy tassel at the end of it. It waggled in the air for a few seconds before it snapped back into the changeling's head, after which she playfully waggled her eyebrows

 

God, I miss having kids.

 

In response to Serena's story, the Fae shook her head as she scooped up a maraschino cherry. "Mm-mm, never heard of ya. My sorta, kinda ex might have; she's the smart one. If it doesn't involve magic, I'm usually clueless. And thanks for not destroying my store." Lynn put her hand in her chin and frowned, indicted the ex-villainess with her spoon. "How are you doing financially? Are you just working the one job, or are you working several? And most importantly, do you have health insurance?"

Edited by Heritage

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Serena shifted uncomfortable when the topic of her finances came up. There weren't a lot of opportunities available for a high-school dropout, and she was well aware of that. Her eyes refused to meet anyone's in the room and she rubbed her pant legs as a sort of nervous tic. Then, gathering up her confidence, she forced herself to speak about it.

 

"Uh... Well. I mostly do my delivery job. Supplement with Uber, sometimes... Deliver pizzas for this place sometimes when they need an extra driver. I usually make rent. Sometimes my dad has to chip in to help me through it. And yeah... I got insurance, though it's not very good... No dental or anything..." She ran her tongue over her teeth. She hadn't visited a dentist in quite some time now. 

 

She frowned. "I do what I can."

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"If you ever make it out to the West Coast," Richard offered, "I know some people out there who could help. Our production company hires a lot of people with a record." He smiled thinly. "We'd be pretty hypocritical if we didn't." 

 

"My dad didn't even go to high school and we have two houses," offered Holly cheerfully. "You'd be surprised what you can do with superpowers." 

 

Richard frowned a little at his daughter, then said, "There are people who hire people with powers," he went on, "the mercenary groups and such, but I know traveling outside of the country is hard when you have family. Paige and I thought about doing that when we were younger, but we wanted to get somewhere outside of the action." 

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