Paragon City Stories: Meanwhile at the Superbase
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Chapter II, Scene 3
Day at the Mall
Place: Arcade Providence Mall
As you get off the local bus, you distantly hear the whistle-and-hum of Recall Friend. As you materialize in front of the steps of a large colonnaded building, a short blonde-haired woman in a blue mini-skirt and heels steps forward to give you a hug.
Trying for her best Audrey Hepburn impression, Paige replies, “Linuial, dah-ling, it’s been too long!”
Linuial hugs the erst-while Hepburn, and returns with her own Katharine Hepburn: “My dear, you look ravishing, you must tell me your secret.” She laughs, entirely spoiling the impression.
“Well, here we are. The first shopping mall in the US, and all fresh from its renovation. Where would you like to start? We have shopping, restaurants, salons, spas, you name it, you got it. A girlfriends’ delight. “
Paige giggles at Linuial’s impression as they air kiss each other’s cheeks. “I’ve been in Paragon City for almost two years and this is the first time I’ve been to a mall here.”
Listening to Linuial’s offer she grins from ear to ear, then lowers her head. “I feel awful saying this… I’ve… never been to a spa before.” she says, coquettishly sliding her toe on the cement esplanade.
“Spa, it is. This way, I know a shortcut.”
The day is early, and the crowds are light. A little girl stands on tiptoe to admire a stuffed tiger in the window of a luxury children’s store, while her father peers at the dresses. Four pastel-blasted preteens cluster around the door of a music purveyor before they dart inside. A white-haired lady in a dress, jacket, and pillbox hat sits on a bench, leaning on her lavender-flowered cane.
Linuial leads the way around a corner, and into an upscale department store. Down the escalator, turn left, all the way to the back, and a wide-open triple-sized doorway opens onto a cheerily decorated and very bright front office.
“May I help you ladies?” the counter girl asks.
“What do you think, Paige?” She points at the tastefully printed list of services, ranging from “Full Day Spa” to “Pedicure; Deluxe”. “My treat. I’d suggest something other than the Full Day option, though…I have a place in mind for lunch I’d like to share with you.”
“Wow… I don’t even know what half of these even do. Exfoliation and massage, sure, but…” something catches her eye, “What’s this? ‘Hot Toddy for The Body’?”
The spa service list describes it as: You’ll be steaming with a hot towel hydration treatment infused with nectar whole milk. That’s just to limber you up. Next, every rough and tough edge will be softened and removed with a rich bourbon and brown sugar exfoliating blend that gives smooth a new name. Your decadent treatment ends with a dollop of peppery caramel body milk lotion that might make you too silky to stand! 90 Minutes – $125.00+
“That sounds cool.” Paige smiles.
“Here’s some interesting options, if you’re unsure,” Linuial says, opening a brochure, and pointing at some of the photos.
“Milk bath…mud bath…herbal bath. Hot stone massage, hot oil massage. Foot massage, hand massage, back massage, all-over massage…with candles, aroma therapy, and soft music.”
“Seaweed wrap,” she continues, folding the pamphlet back. “Manicure, with and without your choice of nail polish. Pedicure with foot soak, and polish.
“Facial scrub and skin rejuvenating treatment. Salt scrubs…mineral scrubs. Oh, look, they have reiki. Ummm…..reiki, tea soaks and a sauna treatment….I wonder if they have a tea garden here?”
She speaks to the girl behind the counter, then turns to give Paige a thumbs up, a glitter in her eye.
“Well, we got the beverages covered at least,” missing the point of the visit.
Paige looks at the list. “What’s reiki? I asked Requiescat and she didn’t know what it was either.”
“Oriental massage,” Linuial smiles. “Would you like for me to choose for you?”
“I’m sorry, I’m a bookworm. I trust you.” Paige says handing the pamphlet back to Linuial.
Linuial turns back to the lady behind the counter.
“We’ll both have the mani-pedi, no polish please, just a buff, followed by reiki, and a cup of tea in the tea garden to finish, if you don’t mind.
“How does that sound to you, Paige?”
Paige looks at her nails… it’s been a while. A long while. “Sounds great!”
Linuial chats with the hostess, and they are led into the mani-pedi lounge. Settled into deep, theater-styled seats with plush pillows, two girls remove their shoes and lift their feet into the waiting baths, then pull up tables and begin working on their hands, soaking, scrubbing, then wielding the accouterments of hand care, while their feet are soaking in a warm sudsy bath.
Linuial looks over at Paige, who is starting to sag into her pillows, and grins.
“So…” she starts off. “We never get to chat, just the two of us. Do you realize the last time we spent any one-on-one time together was back in Croatoa? You seem to spend all your time on college or with Xavier.”
“…and most of it was wasted.” Paige said. “I’ve turned in a petition to save my grades at the cost of cancelling my current semester… and everyone’s advice didn’t spare me from my own demons, Dev, the support group or otherwise. It appears I’m at a crossroads.”
“I’m sorry if I haven’t been more available.”
Linuial’s expression turns troubled. “Paige, what on earth happened? I haven’t tried to pry into your life, I’ve only seen you when we all seem to be Heroing. Did it cut that much time out of your study time? I thought you had it all handled.”
“College? I didn’t have a choice. Rehab killed my grades. The time I lost in the hospital and outpatient therapy was too much, and I was on an overloaded schedule to begin with. What they consider to be 100%, I was doing 150%. Next semester, they’ll scale me down to full time like a normal student. I didn’t fail the classes, but I didn’t pass them either. So with the petition approved, they’re cancelled this semester and my schedule is wide open for the next three months. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be less stressful, I hope.”
“As for… her, when I said I was fine, I was having some encounters with her. When I slept at night, I saw her in my dreams. During our visits in Pocket D, I was arguing with her when I was quiet. When we were on the rooftop in Founder’s Falls, she and I were fighting, and I lost concentration before I was knocked out… if I was paying attention, Lin, I would have been able to hurt his ears, make his arms go limp, hell, duck. But I didn’t even feel the hit until after I woke up. I didn’t have the resources to fight it on my own, like Dev wanted me to, but group therapy was too ineffective at the end.”
“Since Nyghtshade and I encountered her, she’s stopped. I don’t have auditory hallucinations anymore, no sleepwalking, no ‘waking up’ while standing when she did something. But even THAT has been bugging me….” Paige said, staring at her nails as the aesthetician went to work on her.
“Paige, why didn’t you tell me about any of this? Didn’t you understand that you could? I know you don’t want me meddling in your life…but I might have been able to help, just a little.
“You never had to shoulder it all on your own. It’s not just me, dear…I have a whole adopted family who would have been happy to help you out.”
“I’m sorry… It got too much for me. I didn’t see it until it was too late.” Paige said.
“In any case, the petition is done, and if she isn’t gone, she’s in remission at least, and my rehab is less painful and getting easier. Now I can regroup, take care of what I need to and come back in a few months at full strength.”
“But this isn’t all about me tonight, Lin. You’re forgetting something…” she says coyly with all the insinuation of a middle schooler, “…and you know what I’m talking about.”
“Uh…” Linuial blinks, looking confused. “Well, I assume you want to catch up on what I’ve been doing, too, but it’s just general stuff, SG business, things like that. The usual. Oh, I did drop over at Monique’s again…and this time I brought a swim suit!” She laughs.
“I see. A kiss on Dev’s cheek when we met in Atlas Park after the mission, you asking for his number at Monique’s, you could see how a little girl like me could get the wrong idea, right?” Paige said, then turned to the woman working on her nails as she finished her right hand and changes seats to begin with the left, “Oh, thank you, you are a miracle worker.”
“I know I gave you Dev’s number, which was given to me in secret, but I’m actually good at keeping secrets if you want to talk.”
Linuial laughs, light and easy. “Paige, you’re letting your imagination run away with you.”
She grins. “I was so impressed with what Xavier did for Bubastis and for you, as well as what he gave me for Chris…it was a complete surprise, and even a bit of a shock. It just seemed so out of character for him, to spend that much time thinking about other people, and getting things for them that were so very important to them. I really had to admit to myself that either I’ve been reading him wrong lately, or he has grown a tremendous amount.”
She stares off into the distance thoughtfully. “I really rather think the second. What he went through with Morpheus…what I made him go through…it seems to have matured him somehow. I meant for him to learn a bit about empathy, so that he could help me…but he seems to have almost picked up something…empathic. Yeess…” she draws the single syllable out. “That might be it. Almost as if he had some latent empathic ability of his own, which was awoken. For a while, at least.”
“That was the reason for the peck on the cheek. Just an extra ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’.”
“As for his number, that was his idea. I’m certain the first time he told me I was going to have to buy him a steak dinner, he was joking. Maybe even the second time, too. But, I picked it up and threw it back at him, teasing him, and by golly if he didn’t take me up on it. That, also surprised me, but I wasn’t going to allow the lapse in judgment to pass by unnoticed.”
She leans back in her chair, and chuckles to herself. “Paige, ever hear the saying ‘kill ‘em with kindness’? It cost me practically nothing to buy him a steak dinner, and if that’s the excuse he needs to spend a little downtime socializing, I’m certain it’s good for him. You know how stand-offish he is…and everybody needs some social contact, even if they think they don’t. This was not an easy mission for him…not the least because he couldn’t just tough it out, just fight. He actually had to care, about someone other than himself. It was a stretch, and he deserved an appropriate reward for it…just like the very appropriate rewards he gave to us.”
“I really intended to set the date and time with him during the party, or just ask you to call him for me…so when he told me to get his number…Well, I sort of got the idea he might have more than one reason for that, so I didn’t argue with him.” She closes her eyes, and leans back against the chair, smiling, with a big sigh.
“Oh, you did meet with him. I didn’t expect that for an answer,” Paige said, gauntlet thrown right back at her. “Those gifts really were thoughtful… and he’s become more protective of us overall. Of course I don’t imagine him hopping the Green Line to join us at a K-Pop Concert with glow sticks anytime soon, but he is showing that he’s just as human as any of us.”
“With the way things were going before we left Crey’s Folly, I was certain this might have been our last time together. And I didn’t want to imagine what it would have done to us, let alone you.” The mixed company of the spa probably not being the best place to bring up a woman’s private thoughts or mind past what she chooses to express verbally, Paige doesn’t bring up the ‘Teahouse’. “I’ve been a guest to your place twice, and if Evensong was as sensitive to feelings as you are, I could only imagine how that would have made you feel.”
Linuial opens her eyes, looks at Paige, a perplexed expression on her face. “Whatever did you expect, Paige, that I wanted Xavier’s number without his permission…so I could, what, stalk him?” She breaks out laughing, the pedicurist coughs, then reminds her to keep her foot still, please. “Of course, it would be really hard for me to buy him a steak dinner if I didn’t meet with him. I mean, yes, I could have bought him one of those Nyght Hawk frozen steak dinners and just tossed it to him…but Xavier fancies himself quite the bon vivant, he wouldn’t be happy without the entire performance, steak, restaurant, maitre’d, wine, fancy tablecloths and candlesticks. The idea was to thank him, not offend him!”
“Paige…” she suddenly becomes serious, “Xavier has never been anything but ‘human’. It’s his humanity that was injured so deeply by those events he told us about, the ones that left him with those scars. He does what he does, seems distant, jokes a little too much, pushes people away, precisely because he is human, and hurting. All the time.”
Admiring her nails, she nods to the attendant, smiles her approval. “Because he is hurting…there is always the possibility that he might just up and vanish, one day. And you, my dear, need to prepare yourself for that day. I know you believe that he is devoted to you, and in his own way, he is, but ‘his way’ isn’t what you are expecting. Would he vanish without saying ‘goodbye’? Almost certainly. He would couch it in his own terms…sparing you the pain of goodbyes, most likely…he would never understand that not saying goodbye would hurt worse. He just wouldn’t understand, Paige.”
Lifting her eyes, she stares out the doorway into the main store, past the shoppers, the racks…suddenly looking very old.
“I’m not a stranger to death. Not now, anyway. Mom… most recently Steelhelm… and I don’t forget for a moment that Devereaux does live dangerously.”
“He told us how he got past his darkest moment. I just hope he finds something in this world worth living for that at least reciprocates without money being involved. If not with love, then something else.” Paige said, seeing that Linuial was tiring of discussing him.
“And speaking of love… Monique… what do you think happened to her husband? If he’s around he’s not there, and her apartment doesn’t have any of the signs that a man lives there at all. She hasn’t told you anything has she?”
Linuial sighs, turns to look back at Paige.
“I really don’t know anything about…Fen? I think she said his name was. She hasn’t confided anything to me, and I really didn’t ask. No more than what she told all of us at the party. I think she’d like to talk about him…you could probably ask her yourself, and I’ll bet it would please her if you did.
“You’re planning on going to spend Thanksgiving with her, is that right? That would be a great time for the two of you to bond over boytalk and husband stories. Just give her a chance to reminisce…I’ll bet she’ll take you places you would never expect.”
“I will, for sure. I haven’t mentioned it to her because I hope he didn’t die. Monique’s so sweet and warm, that would be awful to hear coming from her.”
“As for me, I’m light on the boytalk department. Concerning you two, I can dish it out but I really can’t take it.” Paige blushed.
“My only date this far was a pity date for my High School Prom. I invited a Freshman who otherwise wouldn’t have been allowed to attend without me. He clearly didn’t want to be there. And that’s why I chose him; I didn’t want to be there, either, so we rebelled together. I was a klutz who couldn’t dance, and he was unable to dance with shoes that were clearly oversized and borrowed from an older brother. He was very kind. Unfortunately when I went to college, he moved to another town. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“That’s really it. Plenty of crushes, but nothing worth talking about. No one you’d know about anyway. My boyfriend is college at the moment, and he and I are fighting a little bit.”
“Paige, dear, boy talk isn’t about your conquests….it’s about your desires.”
She smiles at the teenager. “It’s about that cute boy one desk over, and doesn’t he have cute dimples when he smiles? It’s about, look at those boys walking through the mall…I’d love to date the red head, but ewwwww, the blonde! He needs to do something about that stubble!”
“It’s about…well…look over there.” She uses her eyes to indicate the short man in white, picking up dirty towels and placing them in a cart. “He’s Oriental…I’m not really certain what country…but don’t you just love his hair? So silky, so black that the highlights from overhead are sheer white glimmers.
“What do you think about him?” she continues, softly, turning to look at the girl.
“Conquest?” She giggles, “I didn’t even get a hug out of that boy, let alone a dance.”
“I’m not into Asians… they age gracefully, but TOO gracefully. Call me conceited, but I’ll turn 60 and they’ll look 30ish at the same age. His hair is nice, though.”
“But that red head… freckles drive me nuts and he has them in droves. It’d be even better if he actually was from Ireland.” She turns her head and eyes a hispanic man, “And that masseuse isn’t bad-looking. Sharp jaw, great smile, deep eyes… too bad he’s using them to stare at the backsides of his customers more than anything else.”
“So…what did we just learn?” Her amusement shows in her smile.
“The package betrays the brain in most cases?” Paige laughs back. “I hope he’s not my masseuse.”
“Otherwise, my only hope is a man with unlikely parents…” Paige takes a second look at the blond with stubble… His light complexion goes well with his platinum hair, as long as he isn’t hoping for the viking look, he has potential. “…or my desires are a constantly moving target and I’m so hopeless.”
Linuial laughs at Paige’s startled expression. “Wrong! Try again, for $100!”
“Gah!” Paige lurches in her chair, splashing water from her feet and causing some tools to fall to the floor as the aesthetician gives her a sour look as the pant legs of her uniform are soaked… “I’m so sorry…” Paige offers back.
“I’h happins mohr oftin then you tink, sweet-tar. Jus try to be steel an relacks.” She says back softly with a thick latin accent, trying to reassure her, then turns to Linuial’s chair, “An yeu, behaif,” she smiles.
“That my taste in men isn’t as refined as yours? I don’t know.” Paige says with a frown as she feels bad she got her wet with her foot water.
“Paige, what on earth makes you think my ‘taste in men’ is ‘refined’? The only man I have anything like a relationship with is Jon. You think he represents ‘refined’? I’ll be sure and tell him…he’ll get a belly laugh out of that one.”
“I didn’t think we were talking about love… just desire. I know nothing about those boys, and the masseuse, he better have a personality to make up for those pervy eyes.” Paige said, thinking about Linuial’s lesson.
Linuial sighs. “All right, Paige, I’ll let you off the hook.
“The lesson is: boy talk is talking about boys. Plain and simple. It’s not about how many dates you’ve had, or why you are inadequate, or what is wrong with someone else, or why you wish your life was different, or how some other woman is better than you are. This boy has this characteristic. Do you like it? Yes, no? It doesn’t matter, it isn’t a test with a right and a wrong answer. You don’t get graded for it. If I say I like redheads, that stands alone. It doesn’t imply that there is anything right with me, or wrong with me, or right or wrong with redheads. If I say I like redheads, but not with beards, that doesn’t mean I’m ‘hard to please’, or ‘can’t make up my mind’.
“You can find a million ways to turn boy talk into an unpleasant experience, if you try hard enough. Paige, ‘boy talk’ shouldn’t be a bad experience. It should be pure fun, a way to explore how you feel, and what you like, without pressure, without judgment, without stress.
“And what if I threw you an even bigger curve ball? What if I started asking you if you like girls, and which ones, and why?”
“But that wouldn’t be fun for me at all. I really don’t find girls attractive.” Paige said as the aesthetician finished her left hand and started to work on Paige’s feet, starting with the right.
“When Mom was alive, I got ‘the talk’, which is at the tail end of my thinking that boys are terrible creatures for 4 years, shortly after losing my ‘boys are gross’ phase of being a 8 year old girl. I’ve never really done this before with a friend. And my roommate Liz, I don’t hate her exactly, but I don’t consider her to be that much of a friend. I state any preferences with her, and she just tells me my standards are out of whack. Big talk coming from a girl who has a new boyfriend every 3-6 days. I’m surprised she’s passing college at all.”
The two boys Linuial noticed started to walk away from the window, as Paige’s head lowered. “Just because I’m awkward around boys doesn’t mean I don’t like them.”
“Well, then, what do you like about them? And no more negative talk about your past, or you, or anyone else. Forget about Liz, and just concentrate on me, and what you like about boys, not what you don’t like.” Expectation paints her expression.
“I like a boy who is kind, strong, and funny. A guy who is smart, honest, and brave if not confident. I want a boy who has freckles, a jawline that’s well defined, and clear, bright eyes. I don’t want a man who is mach–” Paige catches herself when Linuial’s face turned away from her, “Sorry! What I like… what I like…”
“He doesn’t have to be a mind reader, but he does need to be sensitive. I don’t mind a guy with a weakness now and again. Someone who isn’t afraid to cry when hearing a beautiful song, or who isn’t afraid to tell me when he is scared. A boy who is thoughtful and surprises me now and again, but isn’t afraid of being ordinary when life isn’t a thrill ride. Someone who wants to sleep in on Sunday morning and we read a book together, whether he’s got the imagination to be in character or not. And someone… who sees what I can’t. Who finds beauty in peculiar things that I can’t fathom, who has fascination with the world that I don’t get or understand. Because nothing is more attractive to me than a boy with a passion for life, wherever or however he finds it.”
Paige is staring out the window again, aimlessly at the passing crowd.
“And I would summarize all of that down to: you are attracted to kind boys with a passion for life. Would you say that was a fair summary?”
“Terse, but fair. I liked mine better.” Paige said smiling back.
“And if you met a kind boy with a passion for life, and you found out he liked you and wanted to get to know you…would it matter whether or not he had freckles?”
“I don’t believe in a perfect fit… There’s too many variables. Without saying the word ‘settle’ because I’m not exactly worthless, but I know I am certainly no prize myself, I’ll be happy if most of the boxes are checked, but I’m not holding out for 90% or higher. So, yes… freckles are recommended, but I’ll be happy with a good complexion at the least.”
Linuial shakes her head. “Paige, Paige, Paige…that wasn’t a request for an expository paper. It was a yes or no question. Try again. If you met a kind boy with a passion for life, and he liked you and was interested in getting to know you…would it matter if he had freckles or not?”
“You still have my answer. It wouldn’t.” Paige replied.
“Better.” Linuial smiles warmly. “Now, if you could skip all the whereas’s and therefore’s, that’s how you talk with Nyghtshade…about boys, and about her husband. Quit treating boys as if they were science projects, that you must define to the Nth term, and plot the graph of the equation. You don’t have to do that, Paige. ‘I like nice boys, who have a passion for life.’ You can even leave out the freckles. Paige, you’re not ordering a life mate from a catalog, you’re talking about what you care about most…not in every single tiny little detail, because in the end…those details won’t matter. Like the freckles, they won’t matter because so many things are so much more important.
“Does that make any sense to you?”
“Let me get this straight, you’re telling a girl who is majoring in Psychiatry not to analyze men around other women?” Paige smiles back and blinks.
“Exactly. Unless the woman also majored in Psychiatry, they won’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about, and won’t care either, other than they’ll think you’re a very boring conversationalist.” She winks at the teenager. “On the other hand, unless they don’t like boys, you will share with them the same hormones and subconscious reactions. That is something we all can talk about, on an equal basis. Something we can all share, just as boys get together and talk about girls.”
“… then I’ll be bored.” Paige replied, the smile evaporating from her face as the woman worked on her feet, rubbing as she went. She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair from the sensation of it.
“But you got a point. I’ve never been the life of the party, exactly. I could stand to try something new.”
Linuial sighs. “Paige, you won’t be bored. If you think about a boy, and you feel nothing unless you analyze him…then maybe you don’t like boys, and you might want to start looking at girls more.
“It’s the feelings that make it so…involving. So far away from boring that it’s not in the same universe of discourse. And if the feelings aren’t there…analysis is a pale substitute for the real thing.”
“That’s not… what I meant.” Paige said, flustered, but restraining herself from disrupting the aesthetician’s work. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Well, maybe we’ve been on that subject too long,” Linuial admits.
She stares into the distance, just as the attendants finish their work. She holds her legs out straight, wiggles her toes, smiles, thanks the lady for the fine job.
“Well, Paige…ready to try your first reiki?” Her grin is wide and infectious.
“Sure!” Paige says as the final touches are done on her pedicure.
“I’ll definitely be back! Thank you!” she says as she tips her for the fine work.
As they walk away, the clerk asks the woman, “Como hiciste?”, as she replies, “La propina es suficiente, pero no excelente.”
You are led into a cozy room perfumed with sandalwood and jasmine. You’re invited to change into a soft robe, and then asked to lie on a padded table, face up. The reiki practitioner asks if you would like to be touched, or not. Depending on your answer, the practitioner begins placing their hands over, or on, your face, cupping the fingers so as not to touch your eyes or eyelashes.
The hands remain in place for several minutes, until the reiki mistress decides that the treatment is complete, then she moves her hands to your throat, and begins the silent, unmoving process again.
After 45 minutes, every part of your body has been treated, and you are invited to stand and change back into your clothes.
Linuial is sitting in the waiting area when Paige comes out of her private room.
“Well, how was it? What did you think of reiki?” she asks, smiling.
“It was… okay, I guess.” Paige said, with a tinge of disappointment. She heard oriental massage, but the woman didn’t really massage anything. She laid there for 45 minutes more or less, but she didn’t want to disappoint Lin who seems happy with the treatment. “How does tea sound?”
Linuial laughs. “It’s all right, dear, not everyone gets anything out of it, and even at that, some of the ones who do may not get it at first.
“Tea sounds fine, and then I think we should check out that new fondue place in the mall. I hear the dessert fondue is to die for.”
“Never tried fondue. Is it a mushroom?” Paige asks her.
Linuial laughs. “It’ll be easier to show you than describe it, but no. Fondue is a cooking method. There is a pot with a flame (like Sterno) under it placed in the center of the table. The pot can contain one of several kinds of cooking liquids, or a hot dip. Everyone has a color coded long fork, and you stab something with the fork, hold it in the pot, and pull it out and eat it.
“The pot might contain oil, in which case you use it to cook small bites of meat, fish, or vegetables. It might contain a cheese sauce, in which case you might dip different kinds of crusty bread or cut up vegetables. A dessert fondue usually has melted chocolate in the pot, and you dip fruit and other goodies in the chocolate.
“How does that sound to you for lunch?”
“Oooooh.” Paige’s eyes light up. “Count me in!”
The waiter is setting out the appetizer, a cheese fondue, when Linuial’s cell phone jingles. She takes it out, glances at it, and comments, “Oh, perfect timing.”
She looks up toward the wide windows looking out onto the mall interior. As Paige follows her gaze, she sees a dapper looking man in a smart navy suit walk past the window and enter the restaurant. The man is also wearing a matching hat pulled low across his face, and a striped navy tie, offset by the light blue matching gloves, shirt, and pocket square. The hostess visibly starts as he speaks to her, then turns in their direction. Linuial waves, and the man waves back, striding across the room to their table.
“Hi, Paige,” Jon Smith says. “What a great idea, Lin, thanks for inviting me. It smells wonderful, and I’m famished.”
He pulls off first one glove, then the other, and folds them and places them in a pocket in the jacket. Then he does the same with the tie, unbuttoning a couple of the top buttons of his shirt. He pulls out a chair, unbuttons his jacket, shrugs it off, and drapes it across the chair back. He looks around the room, but not seeing what he’s looking for, he takes off the hat and hooks it over one corner of the chairback.
A woman at the next table gasps audibly. His long blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail, revealing every detail of his monocle, the wraparound chin piece, and the circuitboard tracery covering his face.
He leans over Linuial, who tilts her face upward. He brushes his lips across her forehead, she reaches up and briefly cups one hand against his cheek.
Standing upright again, he unbuttons his cuffs, and rolls them up to his elbows, pushing them a bit higher, before sitting down, reaching under himself to grasp the chair, and sliding it to a comfortable distance from the table.
The entire room is completely silent. There is the clank of glass, metal, and china coming from the kitchen.
Belatedly, their waiter hurries over. His eyes wide, he asks, “…will you be having lunch today, sir?”
“Absolutely,” Jon replies. “I’ll just have what the ladies are having.”
The waiter turns and makes a waving gesture, summoning a busboy to place a third setting in front of the cyborg.
Jon turns to the teenager. “We’ve never really gotten a chance to chat, have we, Paige?” he smiles, as he reaches one skeletal metal hand for the glass of water as it is placed in front of him.
Paige thinks for a second… “You know what? I’ve seen you around but never talked with you before. You’re absolutely right!” She unfolds her place setting and puts her fork into a piece of bread to dip into the cheese cauldron.
It is always difficult to tell exactly what Jon’s expression is, because of his prosthetics. Still, he tries to exaggerate his smile, without pushing it to the point of grotesquerie.
He glances at the blonde woman beside him, then lowers his voice to speak more privately with Paige, not wanting anyone beyond their table to overhear. “I never had a chance to thank you for what you did for Lin. You, Devereaux, and Nyghtshade brought her back to me, and I’m eternally in your debt because of it. Especially you, Paige. You were already injured yourself, and you didn’t owe any of us anything.
“You’re one brave and powerful little girl.”
“Thank you… Lin has been an amazing mentor. I feel like I still owe her more.” Paige replies back. “I’m holding back from joining a Supergroup for a few reasons… College being one of them, but once I finish that, if I continue I’m seriously considering Starfire. Maggot Man, Blood Nut… you guys are all amazing.”
“If I may ask, how did you two meet?” Paige wondered.
Jon blinks his one eye, turns to look at Linuial, his eyebrow raised.
Linuial leans forward, places a hand over Jon’s metal one.
“It’s all right, Jon,” she tells him.
“We met by accident, Paige,” she replies to the girl, “…the rest is private.”
“Fair enough.” Paige smiles back. She takes a plate and dips her breaded fondue fork into the cheese, using the plate to ward off drips, then takes a small bite.
She bit too fast. The hot cheese burns her tongue.
“Mmmmm!” She closes her mouth and hums she grabs for her water. The hum sounds like a loud vibrate notice from a cellphone and resonates and all of the water glasses across three tables from their location shake with gentle ripples… no water spilled or glass cracked, but it was noticeable. After taking a drink, she clears her mouth. “Sorry about that.”
Linuial spears a chunk of crusty bread as well, swirls it in the fondue pot, holds it dripping over a small plate. As she waits for it to cool, she smiles, a glint of mischief in her eyes. “Now what was it you were saying about my taste in men, Paige?”
“I… uh. Well…” Paige is as red as a beet.
The cyborg hesitates over a bite, glances to one side at Linuial, pops the dripping bread into his mouth, and turns to look at Paige. Was that a smile quirking the corners of his mouth?
“That sounds like an interesting topic of conversation,” he muses. There is a hint of a chuckle at the end.
“…speaking of which…” the blonde cyborg continues, “…what happened to that ne’er-do-well Praetorian, anyway?”
“Off on some mission,” Linuial responds. “No telling if we’ll see him again.”
“He hasn’t been answering my texts at all. I think he’s still mad about the phone.” Paige said. “I left the belt on by accident that he gave me, I wondered if it could be recharged by plugging it in. Since he didn’t answer, I wore it while jogging.”
“I’m concerned with him… one moment it looks like he’s interested in warming up to us, the next he’s as cold and distant as he was the first day we met him in Steel Canyon.”
Linuial places her fork across her plate, signals the waiter to clear away and bring the main course, a broth “fondue” with raw meats and vegetables to be cooked to taste in the hot broth.
“I understand that he’s pretty much recreated his Praetorian life in the Rogue Isles. Trust no one, and always watch your back. He can’t afford to warm up to anyone. He doesn’t think he can afford to trust any of us, and from his perspective, he’s right.”
She leans back as a busboy removes the last of the appetizer course. “I’m frankly torn…as long as he is living that life, he really can’t afford to ‘lose his edge’, start trusting people, lest he trust the wrong person. We might be trustworthy, but not everyone is, and I’m not convinced he has the skills to determine just who IS trustworthy.
“I think there is a part of him that would like to give that up…but, how? That’s the real question. He’s a survivor…and he survives by not trusting. He’s good at it…there’s no good way to determine that he would be equally good at surviving in Paragon City.”
Linuial turns back to the teenager. “Besides, we aren’t here to talk about Xavier. He can take care of himself.”
She smiles. “We’re here to talk about you…and me…and Jon, if you like. No holds barred. Don’t be offput because I told you our meeting, Jon and I, is of a sensitive nature. That’s only one question, and one answer.”
“Very well…” Paige says as she learns from the appetizer and starts dipping food and letting it soak, then put it on her plate to cool off first.
“It’s weird asking a hero questions about past assignments… it feels like it’s inappropriate. Like asking a Military Veteran about people they’ve killed.”
“I guess I’ll keep it on the surface level. Tahquitz is a Circle of Thorns specialist, Solaeus Primiti is a major Council opponent, and Requiescat focuses on Arachnos. Is there a specialization that you do?”
Jon looks quizzically at Linuial, who is looking at him with expectation.
“Oh…who, me?” He blinks, then narrows his one eye. “Well…certainly, if I have a so-called specialty, it’d be Crey, but it’s not like I chose them, it’s more like they chose me.” The grin is wide enough that it is easy to see and interpret. “And I’ve had the pleasure of returning the favor…with gusto.” He laughs, reaches for a piece of beef, skewers it on his fork.
Linuial nods to the girl, encouragingly.
“Really? I’ve only had the last mission with them, and I feel like they deserve every criticism they’ve received in the media. I take it Lin told you about o3B as well? The nerve! I’ve seen videos, and read articles and whitepapers, but I had no ide–”
Paige stopped, recognizing her anger rising, sitting on the edge of her seat, and her heartbeat quickening. She sat back in her chair, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just know I’m definitely on your side if you have a mission in the future with them.”
Jon looks at Linuial, then back at the teenager.
“Bit of a bee in your bonnet?” he asks.
Thoughtful, he peruses her face, then nods to himself.
In a very gentle tone of voice, he asks Paige, “…have you ever heard how I got these?”
He holds up one of his hands, the skeletal arm exposed by the rolled-up shirtsleeve up to the point that would have been the bicep in a human arm.
“They experimented on you?!” Paige asks in shock. “Like they did with Steve Barry? Oh, Jon, I’m so sorry. I had no idea!”
The big cyborg glances at Linuial, who nods.
“You think she can handle it?” he asks.
“I think it’s about time we start finding out,” the empath replies. “It’s not like she’s experiencing it first hand, or during a mission. This is the best time and place for her to start getting her feet wet.”
Jon turns to face Paige directly, his one eye moving back and forth between her two.
“How much do you want to know, Paige?” he asks, his voice a calm, normal tone, without any particular emotion. “Just assume that I’d be willing to tell you pretty much anything you want to ask me…what would that be?”
Paige is at the edge of her seat again, “Was it a ‘research project’ like ours was? Did they coerce, kidnap or lie to you? What was your life like before it happened?”
Paige shies back… “Sorry, I guess that’s three questions.”
Jon raises his one visible eyebrow.
“Well…that’s a lot. Would you just like me to tell you the whole story? I must warn you, it might take us all the way through dessert.
“Which I’ve heard is worth saving room for, I might add,” he adds to Linuial, who grins in reply.
Paige takes a sip of her water, “Sure. I’m curious… Is that alright with you Lin?”
Linuial lifts both hands in a gesture of denied responsibility. “Jon is his own man, he can make his own decisions. This is his story, not mine.” She turns to wave down their waiter for a glass of rose.
“…can I get a beer?” the cyborg asks over his shoulder. “Coors Light, please”.
He returns to his plate, takes a bite, then turns back to the teenager.
“All right, Paige. It’s not a happy story, but it’s a true one, and the ending is pretty good, so I guess you can keep that in mind.
“My mom died when I was little, my dad died in an industrial accident in King’s Row when I was 16 and my brother was 10. Dad left us a big insurance policy, and the courts named me an ‘emancipated minor’, in other words, legally an adult, so I could become my brother’s legal guardian. It was just a short while later that the first attacks happened that were later attributed to Dr. Vahzilok, and my brother was one of the first victims.”
He sees the change in expression on Paige’s face, but holds up a finger, then continues.
“What I found out later…much later…is that once I was alone, no remaining blood kin, with all that money, I became a target for a Crey program that kidnapped people like me, took their money, and then used them as lab animals.”
Again, he holds up a finger. “Easier if I just finish this all at once. You can ask me questions afterward, if you want to.”
“I was kept drugged for 15 years, until an accident allowed me to escape. They had used me to test some amnesia drugs, so not only did I not remember any of those years, but I’d forgotten the previous 16 as well. It took me a full year to put the pieces together, from scratch, and figure out what had been done to me, and by whom.”
“And that’s pretty much it,” he finished, with a shrug, reaching for the beer and taking a deep, satisfied pull at it.
“Wow.” Paige said. “I’m speechless. They took 15 years of your life? On top of the experiments?”
Paige drinks another swig of water… “I can’t… I can’t even imagine what that’s like. A sixth of your life, gone. No explanation, no answers. That is horrifying.”
“I didn’t know what happened to me,” the cyborg points out. “I woke up, boom, one day, like this, in Steel Canyon, and had no memory at all. It’s not like I remember it happening, or what I lost. I just started over again, like somebody pushed the reset button on my brain.
“It’s hard to grieve for something you don’t even remember having lost.”
He holds up a hand again. “I’d prefer not to have all this done to me, of course. It was pretty rough for a while…I was so frightened, so angry. Lin and Starfire took me in, became my family. I’ve taken my licks against Crey, and caused them some real headaches, too.” He chuckles, deep in his chest. “One thing you’ve probably not heard about, everything was strictly hush-hush, but Hopkins had a plot to destroy all of the evidence that had been gathered against the Countess, and I managed to punch a hole in that little project. There were bombs, there were airplanes, there was a threat against the US, a great time was had by all. I just barely got out alive, and I really didn’t think I would. Fun times.”
“You and I have plenty in common Jon… although your story has a lot more criminality in it.”
“I guess it’s growing up in the Foster system, spending most of my childhood being a ‘product’ myself.” Paige said reflecting on her past, “… there’s a lot of parallels between being a child of the state and corporations that stop seeing people as customers and turns on them as guinea pigs.”
“If there was only a way to shut them down… It’s like our target, Dr. Hill… I know he’s going to get bailed out, he’ll be put back in a lab and do it again. It just disgusts me.”
Jon wraps a hand around his chin piece, rests his metal elbow joint on the table, staring out into the mall.
“Paige, I was given one very good piece of advice, and I didn’t believe it, either, when I heard it.” He glances at Linuial with a smile. “And not everybody that gave it to me had pointed ears, either.” He laughs.
“That advice was this: You can’t live for vengeance. If you’re going to be a Hero, you can’t live for taking down Villains. You just can’t. You have to have something else to live for. If you try to be a Hero who lives for taking down bad guys, you’ll eventually go bad yourself. It’s inevitable.
Paige takes a deep breath in, “I’ve heard that piece of advice too. But I know if I read in the newspapers that Crey Corporation is bankrupt, or Countess Crey goes to jail, I’ll breathe much easier.”
“If it’s my hand that closes her handcuffs, it would be gratifying. But I know that’s not likely to happen.”
“And until that day comes? As long as you know Crey isn’t bankrupt, and the Countess is free? What do you live for?
“Don’t make the mistake I did, Paige. Don’t live to see people like that brought down. It’s nice when it happens, and it’s a satisfying part of the job when you can do it, but after you snap those cuffs shut, you still have to go home. What do you go home to?”
He turns his head, reaches out a hand, which Linuial takes in hers. He stares at her for a long moment, and she smiles back at him.
Turning back to Paige, his hand still clasped in that of the blonde woman, he continues. “What is more important to you than putting away Hill, Paige? If you can’t answer that question, you need to find an answer.
“For me, it’s people. It’s Lin, but it’s also Starfire. I don’t fight Crey because I want vengeance, not any more. I don’t fight them for moral reasons, because they are wrong, or evil. I fight them to protect Lin, and Starfire, and a lot of other people like them that I don’t even know. People who will still be there, even after Crey is gone.
“And if you’re only fighting for a moral imperative…just know that that moral imperative is awfully cold when you go home alone at night.”
“Somebody said it: ‘Follow your bliss.’ Follow your bliss…don’t follow your revenge.”
Paige sits quietly and considers Jon’s words as she eats her dinner. After two minutes of silence, she speaks up.
“He was my worst guardian.” Paige starts. “You told me your story, Jon, the least I could do is tell you mine.”
“I wasn’t known as Paige Pirillo back then. I was born Rebecca Thompson. And I was shuffled from home to home in Massachusetts. I arrived in Lanesborough, with Marta and Raul Acosta. Marta was there for a grand total of 4 hours until the social workers left, that wasn’t even her name. He pays her to pop up whenever DSS came to visit to show a happy American household. When she left, Raul’s true colors came through. I was his live in maid who went to 6th grade. I cleaned his house, washed his laundry, scrubbed his dishes… and when he came home, he’d abuse me. None of it was sexual, which I was thankful for.”
“But he’d get drunk at the bar after working at his motorcycle shop, and every afternoon, he’d find something ‘wrong’. And the few days when I could meet his impossible demands, he’d invent problems just to get his fix. I’d be in my bedroom, and he’d belt me or hit me until I was crying.”
“I would always get struck where the bruising wasn’t clear or obvious, and the few times it did show, he’d have Marta come back and they’d invent a story. If I didn’t go along with it, I’d get another dose immediately once I was home.”
“I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I was harmed, but it wasn’t. One of my foster parents were almost as bad as him. Another foster parent used me to hand-assemble jewelry for their eBay business… I wasn’t allowed outside or to have ‘fun’ like doing my homework until I met my quota for the day. Another one withheld food, access to a bathroom, even going to school until I did what they wanted.”
Paige’s eyes started welling up with tears. “Raul’s mistake was two years into my time in his home.”
“When I both brought home a bad report card, and didn’t clean the house from studying… I went too far. He came up stairs, found where I was hiding and stomped me until a paramedic had to pull me out of my closet on a stretcher. I had several broken bones and an impacted lung, but most importantly a broken femur, which would never happen to a kid unless they went through a violent car accident or something equivalent. Doctors picked up on that right away; no story was going to explain that along with the boot shaped bruises. He was sent to jail… After three months in a hospital… I … was sent somewhere else.”
She cleared her eyes, then lit up considerably.
“So, when I met Kathy Pirillo a year after Raul went to jail, it was a breath of fresh air. She was no angel; despite having a steady job and a house in the country, she was alcoholic too along with a laissez-faire attitude on drugs …but she never harmed me. I took care of her more than she took care of me, but she was grateful. I never… had that before.”
“Which is why I wanted her to adopt me. But eventually, the courts intervened. She went to jail, and I went finally to a group home, because no one wants to adopt teenagers. I got in touch with a good social worker, though, who helped me finish my GED, ACT, and College Placement exams, and I got in on a Chaffee Grant to Paragon City University.”
“So, that’s how I got here. My revenge, in that case, isn’t sending Raul to hell. Because he didn’t cause my suffering. The system did. I don’t harbor delusions that children like me can get a better deal… we know our lot in life. It’s not a lot, but it’s life.”
“But if I can get a handful of kids like me out of there like someone tried to do with me, that’s all I hope for.”
Linuial picks up a couple of plates and hands them to the busboy.
“Paige…I’ve heard the overview of your story before. I know you’ve said you want to help other kids like yourself.
“If that is your ‘bliss’, as Jon calls it…why are you even bothering with Heroing? You’ve been injured, you tell me that you’ve been set back an entire semester, and I know you’ve been working as hard as you can…far too hard, I think, everyone needs some slack time, too.
“Why don’t you just concentrate on your schooling, and leave the Heroing to others? You know I would support you on that. It’s not like you are the only person in the world that can do what you do.”
“My social worker who got me here, Augustus Paine, told me I should get to know my powers better. And I needed to at the time. I was breaking windows, blowing off doors, causing buildings to crack… and that was just when I sneezed. If I don’t know my powers well enough to control them, I can’t function.”
“When my 12th birthday happened and I destroyed something with a fingersnap willingly for the first time… and not on accident… I spent a lot of time in Architect Entertainment developing my powers, but after a while, the simulations got… too predictable. I was hitting a wall. I couldn’t get any further.”
“My first job I did as a registered hero was with you. And Dev and Tahq. That was my first time as a hero in real life. And I’ve learned so much. In fact, it’s given me more direction… Kids with powers growing up have a harder time in the system than those who don’t. I’m getting a better idea of what I want to do. And I know how to sneeze now without destroying things. I didn’t figure that out until recently.”
“But you’re right. This is a point where I need to decide if I want to continue with this, or just focus on school. When I get back into classes next Spring, I’ll probably put Heroing on the back burner… if not forever, then for a while at least.”
“Well, Paige, if you’ve reached that decision, that it’s time to make a conscious choice, I’d say you are doing pretty well, indeed.” Linuial smiles at the girl, waves her glass in the waiter’s direction.
“Was there anything you wanted to ask me about? I think we’ve about killed all the chocolate…”
Jon shakes his head. “Paige, I’m really sorry to hear about what you went through. From your perspective, is there anything that can be done to change the system itself, not just help one child at a time?”
“Oh!” She didn’t realize the pot was nearly empty from their casual sampling during the conversations and stories. “I guess with the next three months off, if there’s anything you need help with at Starfire… whether it’s clerical or menial tasks, let me know. I’ve got time on my hands now, and I want to help.”
She turns to Jon to answer his question, “On a macro scale, not really. The Federal Government is worse than garbage considering foster care reform. They just pass it off to the states as their problem but keep stacking on mandates and laws making it harder to get kids out.”
“On a state scale, Augustus filed an amicus curiae brief to the State of Massachusetts with my story along with other kids he got out of the state. It convinced them to dissolve DSS and put the foster care system under Health and Human Services instead of Law and Code Enforcement, so there’s a greater emphasis on care over control. That’s a good start. He’s also been keeping me in the loop on possibilities I can do after college to make a non-profit corporation that can act as a semi-group-home, semi-private-school to make a bigger impact on powered kids like me. I won’t make a good Charles Xavier or anything, it would be more of a charter school than an academy.”
The big cyborg smiles. “I was actually wondering if you might have a bigger impact on the system by going into politics, than just running one school. But if running a school is the thing that would make you happiest, that’s what you should do.”
“I’ve considered that, but the more I read into the measures and bills, politics is just a giant game that the rich and powerful play, and poor and the disenfranchised simply don’t get a turn at it. I’d have more of an effect outside of government than in it.” She said, “But I can’t do this overnight. I have ground work to do, and first I have to finish what I’ve started in Paragon City.”
“…and what would that be, Paige?” Linuial asks.
“College, and figuring out how my own powers work. What use is a headmaster who doesn’t know her own abilities well enough to use them effectively?” Paige finished. “I don’t have to be a hero to do that, but I won’t learn them as fast either.”
“Paige, do you actually need to use your powers at all, other than to practice them and to run missions? If you cut out the missions, would you actually need to learn how to use them better? I would think controlling your powers would be sufficient, and you can already do that now.” Linuial’s brow furrows.
“You saw me. Remember in Crey’s Folly when you told me to use suggestions on others? You lunged at Bubastis when I tried to make myself ‘invisible’ like Monique.” Paige laughed, “Clearly, I’ve got a ways to go.”
“And most psionics know that Architect Entertainment is useless for training. How do you control a mind that isn’t really there?”
Linuial shakes her head. “You’re not getting what I’m asking, dear. What if you just never had any reason to try to make yourself invisible? Do you forsee doing that in running a school? Why would you need to learn a skill you’ll never use?”
“The same could be said for Calculus. Or Chemistry. Or Desktop Publishing. There’s bucketloads of classes in College that I’ll never use again. The trick is that I don’t know what I don’t need… until I don’t need it,” Paige said.
“It’s not that you only should learn what is required of you and nothing more. It’s the aptitude. It’s the discipline involved. The more I learn about my abilities, the more I CAN do overall, even if it doesn’t involve the use of them.”
Linuial shakes her head. “I still think you are trying to do too much, Paige. My advice would be to look at what you can cut out, and do so. The problem is that when you are exhausted, you can’t do anything right. I’ve seen it happen.”
She spears a lonely strawberry on her plate, nibbles at it, drops the fork.
“Well, regardless, you might look up Damien Bellerose.” Linuial hands a card to the teenager. “Just talk to him, if you get the chance.”
“Hmm… a compromise. Stop doing missions, but train with a professional. Definitely an option.” Paige eyes the blue and white card:
Damian T. Bellerose
Jazz Musician - Music Lessons - Superpowers Development
FBSA Registered Trainer No. 4T5728B2
The back of the card is lightly embossed:
“Find your song.”
“Thanks Lin. I appreciate it.” Paige said as the check arrived.
Linuial pushes her plate away, turns all her attention on the teenager.
“Now!” she smiles. “We are here in the first shopping mall in the nation. We’ve identified your ‘bliss’, as Jon calls it.
“This is the ideal time to go shopping for whatever will help you along your chosen path. Whatever it is, Paige. New clothes for school? Perhaps. New clothes that will prepare you for your future? I’ve heard that it is best to dress, not for your current job, but for the job you want. School supplies. Books. A new tablet. A new hairstyle that will make you look like the professional you will soon be.
“Maybe you can think of something I haven’t mentioned.” She gives the girl a wink.
“Here’s my last piece of advice, which I’m certain you will be happy about: don’t wait until you have accomplished your final goal. Enjoy the journey, Paige, not the destination. Enjoy every step of the way. Throw yourself into it heart and soul. Make every choice a choice that puts you one step closer.
“ That’s how to live your life…today and every day.”
“Believe me, that’s why I’m reluctant to give this journey up. Without being a hero, I wouldn’t have met you guys, I wouldn’t have come this far, and despite the considerable drawbacks, I’ve never felt this alive in my life.” She said smiling at the two heroes across the table from her. “And if I give it up tomorrow, I’ll never forget any of this.”
“So? What do we go shopping for first? Your decisions, now.”
“Since I’m repeating the semester, I’ll stick to clothes… and shoes. Definitely shoes.”
“Are you sure you want to join us? It’s going to get… if I have anything to do with it… very purple.” Paige said to Jon.
Jon Smith laughs.
“That’s all right, ladies, I appreciate the invitation to lunch…but I think I’ll leave the shopping to you.
“Paige, if you ever want to ask me anything, just go ahead and do so. If I don’t want to answer something, I’ll say so.”
The big cyborg stands, reaches to pull Paige’s chair out for her, then does the same with Linuial’s chair. As the blonde woman stands, Jon leans over her, slips one hand around her waist. She tilts her face upward, and for a long moment, they gaze into each others’ eyes, before he nods, smiles, and brushes a kiss across one cheek.
Releasing his grip, the cyborg unrolls his sleeves, buttons the cuffs, picks up his hat and sets it on his head just so, with a slight downward tip in front. He dons his jacket, fishes in the pocket for the gloves and tie; the gloves go on first, he buttons the top of his shirt, raises the collar, slides the tie around his neck, fumbles to get it tied properly.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Linuial says softly. She finishes tying his tie, gives it a final tug, smiles at him, pats him on the chest. He nods his thanks, and with an “I’ll see you later, Paige,” he turns and strides away.
“I appreciate that Jon. And likewise, I’m glad we could have a chance to talk finally. Thank you.”
As Jon Smith heads back to Paragon City, Linuial and Paige Pirillo pay for their lunch, and the two women set off down the mall, intent on fulfilling Paige’s dreams of stocking up for her shiny new future.