Note: This story takes place after High Above the Earth and On the Trail of Hack and War of the Futures, and before People Hurting People.

Cloistered
by John Guilfoyle


 


Turning off the television, Sarah dropped the remote back onto the bed and rolled over onto her stomach. She was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Dr. Wight and Tommy were off doing who-knew what, and the professor had been explicit in his desire that she lay low while he was out of town. Sarah still wasn't sure what connection she felt with the wizard-sleuth; all she knew was that she trusted him. She knew he was wise, and that he always had a plan. And so she waited, even though Hack could have been out on the streets at that very moment, slaughtering and maiming.

The ink on her back itched terribly, but thus far the runes had been successful in keeping the attractive young woman hidden from the hockey-mask-wearing killer, so she wasn't about to complain. Being cooped up in a hotel the last couple of days, Sarah'd had a lot of time to think about what had been happening in her life lately. Her thoughts, of course, had been consumed by the case she was working on, by the seeming obsession Hack had with her, and by the shattered corpse of the poor truck driver who'd hit her earlier in the week. But something else had been bothering her, had been nagging at her conscience.

Alex.

Closing her eyes, Sarah dropped her head into a pillow, face-plant style. What was she doing with Tommy? She knew now that nothing too serious would ever develop with him, and she wasn't sure she'd want it to even if it was a possibility. They lived and moved in different worlds -- and Tommy had issues, there was no doubt. She genuinely liked him, though, in his more sensitive moments, and the animal attraction they felt for one another was absolutely undeniable. It was the best sex she'd ever had, hands down, and Sarah often found herself thinking about Tommy that way when her mind should have been on other things.

Her feelings for Alex St. John-Smythe, the young British metahuman she'd first met at the Boom Room fighting the Matrons of Mayhem, were definitely growing. They'd gotten along famously on their first date, and Sarah hoped that when she got back to New York they'd start seeing more of one another. So if things hadn't really progressed past a first date, why was she feeling guilty about her sexual relationship with Tommy? Sarah wished she knew, but one thing was certain -- she was feeling guilty about it.

The phone ringing shook Sarah from her funk, and when she picked up the receiver and heard her mother's voice on the other end of the line she was, for once, happy.

"Mom! Hi, how've you been?"

"Fine, Sarah. I need to know when you'll be back in the city. We need to start thinking more seriously about your schedule next month -- remember that the movie gets going soon, and we'll be spending a fair amount of time in California."

Sarah groaned, not wanting to talk about business immediately. "Let's get to that in a minute, okay? How'd dad? Have you made arrangements for our visit at Christmas time?"

"Yes. Your father is fine, and he's looking forward to seeing you."

"Cool! I can't wait!"

"We fly down on the 23rd, so mark your calendar."

"So late? Can't we go sooner?"

Lili's voice stiffened a little. "Sarah, there's just too much to do. You've been doing whatever you want lately, gallivanting around and wasting time on this murder case. Meanwhile, bills and responsibilities are piling up back here. I've been managing them as best I can, but after the holidays you're going to have to buckle down and work harder at this. Your insurance rates went up, and-"

"I know, I know," Sarah blurted sheepishly. "But I feel like I can really make a difference on this case. It's a long story... please be patient. Dr. Wight doesn't think it'll be long before we find the lead we need."

"Dr. Wight," Lili sighed, "is a delusional, self-important little man who probably loves having a teen-aged girl tag along after him. Watch that he's not collecting your panties or something."

"No," Sarah responded, her own voice getting a little stern. "He's not like that at all. Besides, I thought you'd be happy, me being involved in a case that's gotten national press coverage."

"Not lately it hasn't. And you've been in Philadelphia for a week now -- just how long are we supposed to wait before your good doctor's nose twitches and you find what you're looking for? You're better off here, in New York, doing promotional work and looking for supervillains to fight and crimes to thwart." Lili harumphed. "I supposed it could be worse. You could be fraternizing with Omega again. Have you seen the news? He's a damned murderer, Sarah. All the ground we gained with the People magazine article went straight into the toilet because of him. I want you to disassociate yourself from him entirely. He's going down in flames, and I don't want you anywhere near the crash."

Sarah didn't say anything for a moment, then changed the subject. "So did I tell you the Protectorate invited me back next month for more training?"

Lili detected the conversational u-turn but said nothing further on the subject of Omega. "Yes, you've told me. That's good. That's the kind of press we need to generate. Nineteen-year-olds hanging around with little midget sorcerers is weird; spending time with heroes like Avatar and Lioness makes people hold you in higher esteem. The company you keep makes a huge difference."

"Yeah," Sarah said. "I know, but I really am needed here. I'll be home soon, don't worry."

"Not soon enough, at this point. Now then, about the movie -- the director is one of these method-acting types, James told me, and he's going to want you out in L.A. well in advance of when shooting starts."

Sarah swallowed hard. She'd had acting lessons, but didn't have much practical experience at it. "Uh, he knows this is my first movie role, right?"

"So I'm told. Apparently he considers you something of a challenge, again according to James. It's going to be difficult. Blur is a natural at this sort of thing, and you're not. It'll be awfully easy to look inadequate next to her onscreen. You'll have to be careful."

Nodding despite her mother not being able to see her, Sarah agreed. "Yeah. She's going to be a tough act to follow, for sure. I'll do my best."

"I would expect so. This could open a lot of doors for you -- but if you blow it, it could set us back months, or worse. How have you been eating, by the way? I've noticed that your face has been looking a little chubby lately -- that needs to change before we get out to the west coast."

Sarah groaned. "Do you have to be critical of everything I do? It's not easy finding time to eat right with my schedule... I do the best I can, and I'm watching my weight. I've put on five pounds since we got to New York."

"Well, it looks like it's all in your face," Lili snipped. "And I'm critical because I care, Sarah. I'm critical because I want you to succeed so you can have all the things in life I never had. I'm critical because your father and I have poured our life savings -- and then some -- into this. Do you know how much plastic surgery costs on a girl who heals like you do?" There was a pause. "Do you?"

"No," Sarah answered quietly.

"And how do you think it makes me feel when I see you eating pizza and hamburgers? When I see you fraternizing with that rotten prick of a hero that's up on murder charges? Or mouthing off to James --and God knows who else when I'm not around."

Sarah's heart sunk lower. "Okay, mom, okay. I get it. I'll try to do better."

"I've been very patient with you these past few weeks. I know you need some space. But you need to use that space smartly and responsibly. You haven't been, and I'm not going to stand by and watch you throw away everything I've worked so hard to give you. I want you back in New York. Tomorrow."

Sarah bit her lip. "No, I'm busy here with Dr. Wight. When I've done all I can to help, I'll be back. I appreciate everything you've done, mom -- really I do -- but this is something I've got to finish. I'll be back soon. And I promise I'll start eating better."

Lili's daughter could practically hear her scowl through the phone. "If this turns into a scandal of some kind, Sarah, and you lose the movie deal, it's over. I'll take you back to South Carolina and we'll get the surgeries reversed. You can work at Wal-Mart and move into a trailer park with your common-law husband who'd beat you if you weren't a metahuman."

The young blonde held firm. "There won't be a scandal. I'm trying to help people, mom, and it means that sometimes I have to do what's right, not what looks good. There aren't many people in the world with powers like mine, and I've found a real chance to make a difference here, to save lives. I'll call you as soon as I get back."

Slight static sounded on the line, and for several long seconds neither woman said anything.

"Mom?" Sarah finally asked.

"I'm here Sarah. That's about the most mature thing you've ever said. I still disagree with you, but at least you've explained why you want to stay. I'll see you when you get back."
 

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