Legend – Chapter 10

Chapter 10.

Virginia skipped a bit as she ran down the aisle of Ayer’s Sports. A new jersey, and another ball, and . . .

“Slow down, Virginia!” her father called, laughing. “I’m getting too old to keep up with you. And all the stuff will still be on the shelves a few seconds from now.”

She giggled and forced herself to walk, waiting for Malcolm Jefferson’s longer strides to bring him up to her side. “Well, Daddy, I have to keep in shape! No one’s slowing down out on the field!”

His big, dark-skinned hand enveloped her light-colored one warmly. “You can do all the running you want . . .  outside. Not in the mall, okay?”

“Okay. I’ll try. I’m just  . . .”

“Excited, yes, like you always are. You and your mother, never sitting down.”

It’s things like that I love about them, she thought suddenly, with a pang of almost-pain at how happy she was, and how she used to not be. Anyone can see I’m adopted – Daddy’s black and Mommy’s so bright blonde you just know why she was named Sunny – but they talk about me just like I’m . . . I’m their real daughter.

Of course, even being happy wasn’t perfect. She’d had arguments with her parents, and sometimes they’d had to send her to cool off in her room, or take away a privilege, like the time she kept watching Unicorn City episodes after bedtime, even after being warned, and so they took away her computer – but, deep down, she knew they did it because they really cared about her.

They care about me.

“Why so distant, Virginia?” Her father, like her mother, never used the shortened form “Ginny”; that echo of Gordon Dare was not one she wanted to hear. Only a few teachers or other kids ever used it, and those only once.

She realized with a start that she’d just been looking up at Daddy, smiling but not . . . there. “Umm . . . Just  . . .” She knew she looked stupid now, and she stumbled a bit. Her father’s hand kept her up. “Just . . . I’m really glad you’re my dad, that’s all.”

He stopped and gave her a quick hug. “And I’m glad you’re my little girl. Though starting to get bigger.”

They’d reached the right aisle, so she hugged back and then pulled away. “Look, this is a regulation ball here!”

“Most of them are –”

“And here, shin guards! Can I get them? I think I still have a bruise from the last time Janie kicked me trying to get the ball away!” She started accumulating a pile of soccer equipment, and her father chuckled again.

“Well, it is your birthday, but that gift card’s only for a hundred dollars.”

She stopped, suddenly realizing how much stuff she was probably getting. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said contritely. A hundred dollars! I should—

He shook his head. “Oh, don’t worry about it. But if we take too long with this, you won’t have a chance to go to the bookstore or Lumiere Games, either.”

She put a few things back anyway, feeling somehow guilty. She remembered how huge a hundred dollars used to be – enough to put gas in Gordon Dare’s rattling old truck and somehow keep food on the table for the whole week. She didn’t know exactly how much Malcolm and Sunny made, but she knew that they lived in a big, beautiful house with a huge yard in front and back, filled with bushes and trees and paths to explore and play in, and she never heard them fighting about money. So I’d better not be greedy. Just grateful.

Finally she’d gotten everything she wanted and they reached the checkout line, leaving with five huge bags. Malcolm Jefferson grunted. “I don’t think I want to run around the mall dragging all your loot, Miss V. Can you behave yourself for a bit while I go put this in the car?”

“I’ll go to the game store, okay?”

“Meet you near there in a bit, then.”

Lumiere Games was a brightly-lit, blinking and beeping wonderland of entertainment. She paused, looking at the new LumiTainment Portable 5 Immersion, but shook her head. Daddy’ll get me a new game or three, but a whole new system, not yet. But maybe for Christmas . . .

She glanced up, trying to read the signs. Then she saw the display sign two aisles over: Unicorn City: Adventure of the Thunder Tree.

Oh my gosh, I didn’t know it was out! She dashed away from the LTP display and zipped around the corner to –

Wham! Something hit her almost in the face.

She staggered and almost fell, catching herself with a hand on one of the shelves; she heard an “Ooof!” and a clattering crash, and looked in front of her – rubbing her forehead – to see a young man flat on his back, games spilling from a split-open bag next to him.

“Oh gosh I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, are you all right?” Oh, Daddy’s gonna be so disappointed, he warned me about running just a few minutes ago, and now –

The young man sat up, shaking his head. “Whoof! You hit hard for someone that small.” He froze for a moment, and she couldn’t interpret the expression in the brown eyes. But even as she noticed that, the pause ended and he pushed himself to his feet. “No, don’t worry, I’m fine,” he said to a clerk who’d run over when she heard the crash. “How about you?” he asked.

“I’m okay. It’s just a little bump, and it was my fault anyway.”

“Half mine, I’m sure,” he said, flipping an errant strand of brown hair back, and straightened. “I was too busy staring at the display and deciding if I could afford it.”

Something’s . . . familiar. The voice and the brown hair, that slender build . . . and it was somehow associated with her running . . .

You like Unicorn City?”

A pink blush momentarily touched the young man’s cheeks. “Well . . . yeah, it’s really well written, and the same team that did Spirit Hunter High School did Adventure of the Thunder Tree, so I thought I should check it out.”

He turned to look over his shoulder, and the profile sparked memory. “Oh my – it’s you!”

His head whipped back and he looked started, wary and almost afraid. “I’m . . . who?”

“Um . . . three years ago? Fourth of July, down at Waterfront Park, I was . . .”

The wary look disappeared, and his eyes seemed to light up. “You . . . you’re the little girl that jerk was chasing after.” He looked suddenly apprehensive. “Hope he’s not around now.”

She laughed. “No, he’s not.”

“And you’re  . . . okay now? Because I was really worried what would happen, if he caught up with you.”

“I’m . . . I’m really good now. He’s not my father any more.”

He grinned with relief. “Good to hear that, Virginia.”

“I was worried about you, actually. My  . . .” she stopped, glanced around, saw that there wasn’t anyone else around them. “Hey. How did you know my name?”

He blinked, got that wary look, then suddenly grinned. “Your . . . original father was pretty much bellowing it at the top of his lungs, wasn’t he?”

She almost smacked herself for being stupid. Of course. “Well, I just really, really wanted to say thank you. If it hadn’t been for you he probably would have caught me. I hope you didn’t get hurt?”

He shrugged. “He did  . . . pick me up and throw me, but I didn’t get more than a few bruises and a cut lip. More than worth it to slow him down.”

She looked up at him and he blushed again. “Hey, that shining-eye cute routine is almost embarrassing.”

“It’s just . . .”

“So who’s your new friend here?” Malcolm Jefferson’s voice and words were friendly, but she could see a suspicious glint in his eye.

“Daddy, remember how I told you about the Fourth – the day before we met?”

Her father looked down, surprised. “Of course I do.”

“Well, this is the guy who I told you about, stood up to  . . . Gordon, and let me get away long enough for  . . . America to find me and bring me to Mrs. Pilgrim.”

The suspicious glint was mostly replaced with surprised gratitude. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Well, sir, I can’t be one hundred percent certain I recognize her myself – she ran past me as a blur – but I sure do remember getting between a really big angry man and some little girl he was chasing. And flying about ten feet through the air when he decided he wasn’t going to let me stand there in the way.”

Malcolm looked back down at her, then grinned. “Then thank you, Mr . . .?”

“Stephens. Benjamin Stephens.

“Thank you, Benjamin.”

Ben Stephens waved the compliment off. “Anyone would have done the same thing.”

“No, they wouldn’t,” Virginia said seriously. “Because there were a whole lot of ‘anyones’ in that crowd, and you were the only one who did.”

“I just reacted . . .” Ben stopped, then shrugged and smiled. “Okay, then, I was a big damn hero! Thanks!” He bent over and started gathering up his games. “Now, I’d better get myself a new bag.”

Malcolm looked down at her again, and caught her rubbing her head. “Virginia? Did you–“

“Um . . . yes?”

At the same time, Ben said, “It wasn’t really her fault, sir. I wasn’t looking where I was going, either.”

She could tell that Daddy wasn’t entirely buying that explanation, but he couldn’t contradict Ben since he hadn’t been there.

An urgent chiming noise suddenly burst from one of Ben’s pockets; he stiffened and yanked out his phone, looked quickly at it, then shoved it back. “Nice meeting you again, Virginia, nice meeting you, Mr. Jefferson, and I’m glad you’re doing well. I’ve gotta get going.”

He strode out swiftly, back now straighter, even with the torn bag of games under one arm, and she suddenly realized that she knew that pose, that certainty. It was crazy, but she was suddenly sure of who that really was and of why Benjamin Stephens was leaving so quickly.

And so she barely heard her father’s second lecture of the day.