CHAPTER 2

Normal

Nick and I have been dating for about a year and a half by now. For the first year, everything was normal, ordinary. There was no crime-stopping, no secrecy, no flying, no Ghost. We were like any other high school couple. We went on double dates, cuddled on the couch, saw movies, snuck kisses in between classes. I was the unathletic wallflower, he was a benchwarmer on the football team. We made a good pair. Our biggest secret was that each month on our anniversary, we'd skip school and just relax, take a break from the pressure and drama of being a junior in high school. Then the storm came, that one day that changed everything. Everything that happened before then seems so trivial now.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. We had just spent the day together for our one year anniversary, and he was walking me home. Lightning cracked across the sky and the thunder that immediately followed startled us, making us dash the last few feet to my front door. We kissed on my doorstep, the warm spring rain plastering our clothes to our bodies as we held each other. Everything smelled fresh, new, warm. I wanted that moment to last forever. We stood in silence for a minute longer, enjoying the last spring storm before summer rolled in and scorched the land. He kissed my forehead one last time and walked away.

Later that night, my cellphone rang, startling me awake. I answered groggily, surprised to see the caller ID telling me it was Nick's parents.

"Arden, is that you?" came the voice on the other side of the phone. She choked back a sob, and my heart started to race.

"Mrs. Nolan? What is it? What's wrong?"

"We're at the hospital. It's Nick, he's been injured."

I almost dropped the phone, my hands started shaking so hard. "I'll be right over," I said, grabbing my keys.

"Arden, wait. Let me explain," said his mother, taking a deep breath as she tried to stay calm. "Someone saw it happen and saw him fall unconscious on the sidewalk between your house and here. They called 9-1-1 and an ambulance picked him up. The doctors think he was..."

"What is it?" I prompted, hating the foreboding silence.

"They think he was stuck."

"He got hit by a car? Oh my god, is he okay?"

His mother paused. "Not by a car. They think he was struck by lightning."

My heart seemed to stop for a moment. This had to be some sort of joke. "How is he?"

"Not good. He's in a coma, and the doctors aren't sure why. There are just so many things in his body going haywire right now."

"He'll wake up, right?"

The silence on the other end gave me my answer.

"I'm sorry, Arden. They aren't sure. We'll just have to hope for the best," Mrs. Nolan said, choking back sobs.

"I'll be there in a few minutes," I said and hung up, getting into my car. I could barely get the key into the ignition, let alone pull out of the driveway. But somehow, I found myself at the hospital, standing over his bed, watching as machines kept him alive. He looked so broken, so fragile. Burns spotted his body, tubes and wires emerged from beneath the blankets. The only sound in the room was the mechanical sound of the respirator, forcing my Nicky to breath. Tears rolled down my cheeks and fell onto his still face as I touched his lips.

Obviously, Nick did wake up. He was unconscious for a week as his nervous system recovered, slowly remembering how to breathe again. But when he woke up, everything was different. The lightning had done something to his body, changed it somehow. I found out the first day he was conscious again. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it like he had done so many times before. But this time, I yelped as his grasp easily crushed the bones my hand. His parents and I stared in shock as I held my broken hand. Nick blinked in confusion, then grabbed the metal railing on his hospital bed, crushing it like a pop can.

Nick learned to control his strength, learned to use his new abilities. The doctors never found out, nor did they see anything unusual on any of the tests Nick had to take. He was quickly released from the hospital, but things never quite went back to normal, not with his abilities developing more and more every day.

I've always wondered what could've happened that night if we'd stayed on my porch for just a minute longer. Would we still be together, living our normal, ordinary lives? I never regret that day, never regret the changes it made to me, to Nick, to us.

I pulled my hands back from the keyboard and sighed, wondering if my words were really true. Some days it was hard, living a double life. But when I thought of all the people that Nick had helped, how happy it made him, I knew that it was for the best.

With a yawn, I turned off the monitor on my computer and trotted downstairs. I looked to where I knew I would find my parents. My dad was plopped on the sofa, his eyes glued to the tv. "Morning, honey," he grunted without even attempting to peel his eyes from the football game.

"Good morning, Dad," I replied. "Morning, mom," I said, turning to where my mom sat at the kitchen table, poring over a jigsaw puzzle. Her empty cereal bowl sat next to her and I took it to the sink with a sigh.

"You're up early for a Saturday. I don't usually expect to see you before noon," laughed Mom, her eyes bright. Even though I looked more like my dad, with reddish brown hair and a smattering of freckles, I had my mom's gray eyes.

"Where's Sarah?" I asked as I popped some bread into the toaster. My little sister wasn't in her usual spot next to my mom.

"She's at school setting up for the homecoming dance, just like you had to do when you were a sophomore," answered my mom, pushing her glasses farther up her slender nose.

"Of course," I laughed, slathering butter over my toast until it was near unrecognizable. "I really enjoy this whole 'senior year' thing. And I definitely don't miss being a freshman."

My mom smiled at me, her eyes crinkled at the corners. "I'm assuming you're going with Nick?"

"Of course," I replied, snatching up a bottle of water as I headed to the garage. "I've gotta go to school for a bit to fix up a few last things with the school newspaper. I'll be back later to get ready for the dance. See ya."

"Bye, dear," called my mom, and my father grunted something that sounded a bit like good-bye.


I took a deep breath and smoothed out my dress, looking nervously at myself in the mirror. My three inch high heels brought me up to the whopping height of 5'5", and my indigo dress hugged my small frame in all the right places. As I applied the last touch of eyeliner and added the last bobby pin to my hair, I looked at my reflection with a satisfied sigh. My dark hair was pinned up in something resembling an up-do, and I managed to walk a few steps without looking like a complete klutz. For Arden Saunders, those things alone were a victory. Homecoming dance, here I come.

Tonight was one of our normal nights, the times that Nick and I pretended we were nothing more than two high school seniors with nothing to do other than waste a few hours at a dance, swaying to cheesy songs and jumping around like spastic grasshoppers. As satirical as I may sound, sometimes, normal is nice. Ever since that day, we've needed days like this to just unwind. Nick needs to take the weight off his shoulders once and a while.

I carefully made my way down the stairs to where Nick was waiting. I had to catch my breath for a moment as I looked at him in his pinstripe suit, his deep blue tie bringing out the blue of his eyes. He smiled at me, that same smile that always made my heart race. And he knew it, too.

"Hey, shortie. You look beautiful," he said, stooping to plant a kiss on my temple as we posed for the customary snapshots that my parents took. Even with my shoes, he still managed to tower over me at his looming height of 6'2". With promises to be good, I said goodnight to my parents and stepped out into the warm evening. Nick helped me into his truck and we drove off to school, ready for our last homecoming dance. The sunset turned the sky a beautiful red, and our hands sat entwined between us.

We had barely gone a block, however, when normal ended with the crackling of Nick's police radio, announcing a shooting that had happened in a bad part of town. The perpetrator had fled, and the police were on his tail.

Nick cursed under his breath as he reached across me, unlocking the glove compartment and pulling out his familiar mask. He quickly pulled over to the side of the road, stripping off his suitcoat and tie, pulling on his mask instead.

"I'm sorry," he whispered to me, pressing his thumb to my chin. "I have to stop that guy before he hurts anyone else."

I smiled at him, kissing his finger. "It's alright. You know where I'll be."

"I'll be there as soon as I can," he said and disappeared without another word.

With a sigh, I slid over into the driver's seat and pulled back onto the road, driving the rest of the way to school in silence. So much for normal.

I arrived at school and chatted with friends as I waited in line to buy tickets for the dance, Nick's coat tucked around my shoulders. My mind wandered though, wondering what was happening. Even though there was nothing that I knew of able to hurt Nick, I still always worried about him. How could I not?

Tasha bounced over to me, her blonde hair elegantly curled and falling perfectly over her shoulders. Of course. She could look beautiful wearing a garbage bag.

"You look gorgeous," I told my best friend with an envious sigh.

"Thanks, you too," she said, smiling openly. "Where's Nick?"

"He forgot something at his house, so he had to run back. He should be here soon," I lied easily. After six months, the stories came naturally.

"Oh, there he is now," said Tasha, turning back toward Nick, who was quickly walking toward us. His steps were controlled, as if he were barely restraining himself from dashing over.

"Hey Nicky, what's wrong?" I asked, taking in the tension in his jaw, the worry in his eyes.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" he whispered, forcing a smile.

"Of course," I answered, and with a quick wave, I followed Nick back to his truck. "You weren't gone long, is everything okay?" I asked, catching him by the sleeve.

"Yes. No. I'm not sure," he said, shaking his head, his blue eyes darting around uneasily. I hadn't seen him this rattled for a long time.

"What is it? Tell me," I urged him.

He took a deep breath and wrapped his muscled arms around my waist. A gust of wind seemed to blow and then we were standing outside his house.

"At least give me a little warning before you do that," I whispered, leaning my head against his broad chest for a moment before he led me inside.

Without speaking, he turned on the tv, changing the station to a local news channel. It was still talking about the shooter Nick had gone to stop, and was showing footage from a helicopter camera that had chased the perpetrator when he fled in his car.

The beat up car that the police cruiser was chasing seemed to be drawing away, until a blur shot out of nowhere and slammed into the car, sending it flying off the road. The police car turned toward the wreckage and the officer jumped from his car, gun drawn. A man wearing a mask pulled the criminal out of the wrecked car and in one seamless motion, snapped his neck. The criminal went limp and the man tossed him toward the police cruiser where he landed in a heap.

"What was that, Nick?" I asked hesitantly. "Since when do you kill people?"

"Keep watching," said Nick simply, his blue eyes dull.

The helicopter swooped in for a closer view, its cameras zooming in tightly on the Ghost's masked face. He looked up at the camera, and my heart seemed to stop. It wasn't Nick. Dark, smoldering blue eyes assaulted the camera with sheer sexiness, and his lips parted in a sly, cocky smile. He mouthed some words at his audience and for a moment I swore his eyes were tinged red, but the moment ended as he turned his back on the camera. With one fluid move he tore off his mask and threw it to the ground, revealing a shock of jet black doubled over as if in pain, his arms wrapped around to clutch at his shoulders. His back writhed as if something were inside him, trying to tear its way out. With a flash of light, the camera went blind for a moment, and once it refocused, the man was gone. In his place were black feathers floating through the air, the only sign he had been there in the first place.

Nick switched off the tv and turned to me with fearful eyes. "By the time I got there, everything was already over. But I heard everyone talking, I heard what they had seen. There's someone else, Arden. Someone like me, with abilities."

"How can that be possible?" I murmured, unable to pull my eyes away from the blank tv screen. I reached out to Nick and he took my hand. I could feel him shaking, and I gripped his hand so tightly my knuckles turned white. "How can someone else have powers like you?"

"I don't know," replied Nick, "but I think he wanted me to notice him. At first I didn't catch the words he mouthed at the camera, so I replayed it a few times until I figured it out. He said, 'Hi, Ghost. My name is Shadow. Every comic book needs a villain.'"


[A/N: Sorry, I know this chapter is really rough, but I'm still trying to find my rhythm with this story. Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick with it. I promise it'll get better once it gets going. Please review and tell me what you think so far! I'm really excited to keep working on this. ~DarkHawk]