That night the “Miracle of Mission Viejo” was on all the TV news programs and online news sites. Sasha watched the TV with much interest, sitting with her parents and sisters in the living room as they often did. The Beauty several times glanced at Sasha, but Sasha ignored Silvana.
The next morning as Sasha and Silvana waited patiently in Sasha’s SUV for the Elf to find her shoes her sister said, “Very interesting that you said you’d make those kidnappers pay if you could. Kind of sad that someone else beat you to it.”
“Yes, it is.”
Silvana sniffed. “Be that way.”
“Be what way?” Gianna said as she slammed the rear passenger door.
Silvana said, “Nothing. Just Great Athlete here being stupid.”
The Elf plunked her book bag on the floor and clicked her seat belt closed. “Sasha is never stupid.” She paused, said, “Silly, though…” Her face creased in a smile of great wide-eyed innocence.
“Wunna these days, Elf …” Sasha held up a fisted hand as she drove out of the driveway.
The Miracle was a seven-day wonder. The torturer’s insistence that they had been visited by a demon was touted by their attorneys as proof they were innocent or guilty of lesser offenses due to insanity. The district attorney in charge of the case claimed it was an obvious attempt to evade responsibility, a transparent one because each of the five said exactly the same thing. Their confession to deliberately killing their first victim ensured they would get the maximum penalty, said a legal expert, because the police had given them proper Miranda warnings and proceeded very deliberately and with all attention to proper details.
Martha testified weeks later at the trial that the missing victim, her rescuer, seemed to be an ordinary girl who was merely very strong. By then the trial and its inevitable conclusion was only a back-page news story.
In the spring Sasha received her invitation from the Olympic authorities to join the American team in her specialties. This long-awaited invitation was met by her supporters with great delight. Sasha celebrated properly with those who were local and pretended to share their feelings. But by now her powers had become so extraordinary that she had to carefully hide them. Competition with ordinary humans was no competition, and so no longer fun to her.
She went through the motions of practicing and otherwise preparing for the Olympics and kept up her straight-A academic average. Her college applications were all approved. She could go anywhere she wanted. But she was not sure she wanted to go to college.
Instead she was thinking about how she could use her superhuman abilities to fight crime. That odd comic-book idea had grown upon her. She might eventually decide it was pointless, or give it up after trying it. But for now she intended to at least consider it. It surely offered plenty of challenges.
Becoming an ordinary police officer would use too few of her extraordinary abilities — even if she became an extraordinary officer such as an FBI agent. Private eye? Unlike those in TV shows and movies and books she knew, from what her district-attorney mother had said, that most of those rarely faced extraordinary challenges requiring extraordinary abilities.
She was left with becoming a superhero. But not like those in comic books. Those were basically power fantasies by very un-powerful teenaged boys.
Superheroes often fought super criminals. No such people existed — unless other shapechangers turned criminal, which seemed unlikely to her. About the closest to real super criminals were bosses of successful criminal gangs. But eliminating one would be like squashing a mosquito in a marsh; there would always be another.
The comic and anime superheroes wore skin-tight flashy costumes. A real superhero would not. Not even the skintight black leather pants and belly-baring black tee-shirts and combat boots, as so many were portrayed on fantasy book covers. They’d wear ordinary clothing. Real superheroes had to be stealthy.
Comic-book superheroes had bulging muscles, and body-builder shapes. She was far from that ideal. Most real athletes were pared down to the bare essentials, often seemed deceptively frail. As she did. Her muscles were so efficient massive bulges were unneeded. She was tall and thin, and looked like an elf or a fashion model.
A model had freedom to travel and could work unconventional hours, or so she had heard.
A few weeks later Sasha rang the doorbell of a modest but expensive two-story house in the most exclusive part of Oceanside. It was a couple of miles from her own home, near the ocean, in a formidably security-gated community.
Within a minute the door opened to reveal a tall dark-haired woman who had graced all the top fashion magazines just a dozen years ago. Caroline Latham appeared so naturally youthful that for a moment Sasha thought she might be a superhuman like herself. Then she observed a dozen tiny details, which most people would not notice, which gave away what Sasha knew was her true age: a little past forty.
“Hello, Ms. Latham.”
“Hello, Sasha. Come in.” She stepped aside and gestured for Sasha to come in, a comprehensive motion that included Silvana.
Her sister said, “Thank you for having us over.”
“Come out to the patio. I’m having some iced tea. You’re welcome to join me.”
The woman closed the door and led them through a nicely appointed living room, down a hallway, and through a dining room off a kitchen. Which seemed, from what was visible, to be ultra modern. No lights were lit, but enough late-afternoon sunlight came through large windows to keep the house from seeming dim.
The former model wore a silky muumuu patterned in bright colors which, though loose, caressed her body enough to show Sasha the woman was as lithe as in her modeling days. Those clues and the grace with which she moved told some secret part of Sasha how much the woman weighed within a few pounds.
The “patio” was actually part of a large perfectly greened back yard bordered on three sides by trimmed bushes more than human height. The left side included a large swimming pool filled with water and bordered with several round tables shaded by gaily colored umbrellas.
The right side held a patio under three tall trees and included a slightly recessed barbecue area whose far side was a cooking area with a long built-in preparation table. It was almost a kitchen in itself, lacking only a refrigerator.
Caroline Latham led the sisters to a set of plastic up-holstered lawn chairs under a free-standing wooden roof of light-brown wood. A large frosted glass pitcher of iced tea and three glasses sat on a round table. Everything was within reach, if one stretched or half-stood, of three chairs of several in a semi-circle.
She sat in a chair nearest the table and began pouring a glass of iced tea for herself. She sweetened it as the sisters sat nearby. The position let all three look at the swimming pool but also see each other.
Silvana only sat for an instant before she rose and poured glasses of tea for Sasha and herself. She took one pink packet of artificial sweetener for herself and two brown packets of rock sugar for Sasha.
For a minute or two the three stirred their glasses with plastic straws. Then Silvana spoke.
“This is very lovely. Did you design it yourself?”
“No. My talents don’t lie in that direction. I engaged a designer, gave her a rough idea of what I wanted, and then picked one of her designs. Then my husband and I suggested a few changes. Very minor ones. She was a real artist.”
She took a sip of her tea and spoke to Sasha. “I hear you’ll be going to the Olympics. You must be very excited.”
Silvana laughed. “Not Sasha. She just decides what she’s going to do and then does it.”
“You make me sound like a human guided missile!”
Silvana widened her eyes.
Sasha faked a hurt look. “I just don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.”
Silvana raised a skeptical eyebrow.
The former model hid a smile with a sip of iced tea. “You said in your phone call that you wanted advice on becoming a fashion model. Both of you?”
Silvana said, “No. I might want to become a fashion designer, or an interior decorator, or maybe even an architect. I just came to help Sasha, if I could.”
Latham looked at Sasha. “Why?”
Sasha had given some thought to what she would tell people. “I’ve been committed to competing in the Olympics since I was five years old.” Which was true.
“I expect I’ll do well. Maybe even win all golds. I’ve done that already at all the national and world competitions for the last year.” Which was mostly true even before her transformation. It would certainly be true at the Olympics. The big problem there would be to hold back to merely human levels.
“But once I’ve done that, then what? I’ve no interest in further competition, or making some new world records by some tiny amount. I’m no good at teaching –“
Silvana broke in. “Not true. You’re good.”
“OK. Fine. I don’t WANT to teach. Or start up some new line of sports equipment, or help some company do it. Or have anything to do with athletics, in fact.
“I’ve been so focused on the Olympics that I’ve never gotten interested in anything else. It’s time I did.”
Caroline Latham leaned over to pick up the pitcher and refresh her glass. “The first two years or so of college is where a lot of people broaden their horizons. Discover what they like to do. Meet people.”
“I’ve read a lot about colleges and how they work. They may give you a lot of leeway, but it’s all still structured by the colleges. I’m used to discovering my own directions, and planning how to get there. And sticking to plans as long as they work.”
She paused, fumbling to express her thoughts.
Silvana said, “In other words, she hates to be bossed. And she thinks she’s smarter than anyone else.”
Sasha laughed ruefully. “Trust my sister to be brutally honest.”
“How very masculine of you,” said Caroline to Silvana.
Sasha peered at her, trying to see if she was being insulting. The woman was smiling, but Sasha had seen many acid-tongued girls smile when they cut someone with words.
Reading a dozen symptoms invisible to ordinary people Sasha decided she was merely joking.
“I suppose it comes down to wanting to see the world that I couldn’t see when competing. I might be in Beijing or Paris, but mostly I saw hotels and locker rooms and gymnasiums. We had no time, or energy, to see the city. Some times we got to go to fancy restaurants, but that was about it.
“So that’s really the reason, I suppose, I want to be a model. Travel, freedom to set my own schedule. Figure out what I want to do with my life.”
Caroline sipped from her glass, set it down on the table, spoke.
“Modeling may sound wonderful. But it’s business. And can be hard work. And we’re always looking for new work. Those glamorous parties you see us attending are business, too. Networking, getting our photos in magazines. Are you prepared to work hard?”
Silvana said, “You wouldn’t ask that question if you lived with Sasha. She works hard. All the time. Her friends practically have to kidnap to get her to have fun.”
Sasha made a face but did not disagree.
“Very well. Here’s what I’ll do. Call an agency in LA called Felice, recommend you. They’re in the phone book. They also have a web site. They are an international organization. Maybe number four or five in the world.
“Are you willing to give endorsements?”
“If they’re for something I believe are good products, sure.”
“Fine. But when the agency people ask you about doing it, say you can’t think about anything until after the Olympics. Don’t let them push you into saying anything beyond that. That might prejudice the judges against you.”
“Someone push Sasha? They’d have to be crazy. Or stupid.”
Caroline shrugged. “There are plenty of stupid people in the world.
They talked about modeling for a quarter hour more (17 minutes and 37 seconds according to Sasha’s internal clock). Rather Caroline did. Then Sasha heard the front door of the house open and close and children’s voices. Then several minutes later a girl about Silvana’s age and a boy two years younger rushed into the patio.
“I hope you don’t mind signing autographs. My daughter and my son are fans of yours.”
“Not at all. Part of the job.” Sasha turned in her seat and smiled at the two children.
Both were handsome children, no surprise with their mother, and ash blond like her. The girl wore a wraparound grey-and-white-checked skirt over leotards. She had freshened up but Sasha could smell that she had been exercising heavily, ballet or some such judging by her costume. The boy wore a blue and white soccer uniform and had freshened up little if at all.
The two slowed as they approached and stopped a few feet away. Each was carrying a photograph and a pen.
Their mother introduced them and the children asked for Sasha’s autograph. Sasha smiled and reached for the proffered photos, both apparently printed from the web onto slightly glossy paper.
The one for the girl showed Sasha at her most recent trampoline competition. Caught in mid-air, with legs straight and arms out to the sides, Sasha appeared to be flying. The boy’s photo showed her at the gun show, firing her automatic around the corner of a fake wall. In her casual clothes, dark glasses, and hair in a pony tail under a billed cap, she looked like a plain-clothes police officer at a shoot-out.
Silvana greeted the two and, once they were settled into chairs, asked questions about them which drew them out of their shyness in the presence of a celebrity. Sasha, realizing that she would have to learn to do this with strangers if she were to act more like a normal person rather than an Olympics-obsessed athlete, began to copy Silvana.
The afternoon had been well-advanced when the sisters had arrived. Shortly Caroline Latham said it was time for her to fix dinner and asked Sasha and Silvana if they would stay for dinner. The sisters glanced at each other. Silvana nodded and Sasha accepted the invitation.
At that Caroline rose and placed her glass on a serving tray. Silvana hurried to place her glass and Sasha’s on it. Sasha stood and placed the nearly empty tea pitcher on the tray and picked up the tray. She told Caroline to lead the way to the kitchen. On the way there they met the woman’s husband just coming in from parking his car in the garage.
“Interesting kids,” said Sasha as she turned out of Caroline Latham’s driveway to head for home.
“You did good. Maybe you’ll turn into a human being after all.”
Sasha glanced at her sister. That remark could be taken more than one way. Was it time to reveal her secret to Silvana?
She also wondered something else.
“Are you going to be … annoyed that I’m going to be –“
“– that you are going to be the Beauty of the family? No. It’s Brandon who calls me that. Because I like pretty clothes and hair styles and makeup. But it’s making beauty, not being a beauty, that I’m into.”
Sasha turned out of the housing area onto a more brightly lit thoroughfare leading home.
“So that’s why you said you wanted to be a fashion designer?”
“I said maybe I wanted to be.” Silvana’s voice had a smile in it. “I’M not the one who decides what to do with her life when she’s an infant!”
Sasha laughed. “Pretty ridiculous, wasn’t I?”
“I never thought about it. That was just the way you were. Like Gia always being up about everything. Even at breakfast!” Silvana was emphatically not a morning person.
They rode in comfortable silence for a couple of blocks.
“I told Doc Elliott what really happened to me,” Sasha said. She glanced at Silvana, who hitched herself around in her seat so that her body mostly faced toward Sasha. Her gaze was intent.
“I think Mamá suspects more happened than I’ve let on. I’m sure Papá and Gia don’t. I’ve told Brandon a little bit.”
She glanced at Silvana again, who nodded encouragingly. So she told her more, mostly about her greater strength, toughness, and ability to heal herself. She said nothing about her ability to heal others. Nor did she mention her more extreme abilities.
“So what does this have to do with being a model?”
Sasha was silent for a moment. The street lights shining through the car windows flashed directly on her face every few seconds.
“What I said to Mrs. Latham was true. But there’s more. It’s like I was given a gift from Someone.” Sasha was skeptical about God, at least the church’s version of God, but she was not an atheist.
“It seems like I ought to do something with it. Something no one else can do.
“I said something to Brandon about joining the FBI. But that wouldn’t really use my abilities all that much, and I’d have to hide them. But it’s in the right direction.”
Silvana smiled. “So you want to be a superhero, like in Bran’s comic books?”
“Sounds silly when you put it like that.” Sasha snickered. “Wearing tights and capes. And heels while chasing bad guys.”
Silvana laughed. When Brandon had been a kid he had loved comic books. Mocking the silly costumes of the superheroes had been a favorite way the two sisters had of teasing him.
Silvana sobered. “No way to persuade you it’s a stupid idea? What am I thinking? Getting you to change your mind once you’ve made it up?”
“I haven’t made it up. I just know I have to do something. I just don’t know what, exactly.”
Sasha turned off the main thoroughfare they were on into their residential area. It was only a few miles to their home.
“Well, at least let me help you with your wardrobe.”
“Hey, I am NOT wearing tights or heels!”
“Certainly not, silly. But you can dress nicely.”
“I know you. You’re thinking of something flashy.”
“Was not. But you should wear something nice. The best way to sneak around is to look normal. And you’re so pretty if you try to dress drab you’ll stand out.”
“I’d need something loose, so I could move easy.”
“And it’d have to be tough. I’ve been reading about this new fabric. They’re planning to weave bullet-proof vests out of it.”
“Is it fire-proof? Water-proof?”
“I don’t know, but I can find out ….”
“And nothing red!”
“No, certainly not. But blue suits you….”
“Grey can be pretty,” Sasha wheedled.
“You need a touch of color. And, speaking of color, would it hurt you to wear a little bit of lip blush?”
Mercifully, the driveway to their house was coming up. But, Sasha thought with amused resignation, her sister had decided to make her A Project. And Silvana was at least as stubborn as Sasha herself. She might as well bow to the inevitable. She was going to be Made Over!