For Old Times’ Sake by Geoff Gander [fantasy]

For Old Times’ Sake by Geoff Gander

Sarah studied the balding, broad-shouldered man dipping a biscotti into his coffee and smiled. “Facebook didn’t lie. You don’t look bad after 30 years,” she said.

Frank looked up and straightened. “You look pretty good yourself,” he said. “My kids set up a profile for me,” he added sheepishly.

Sarah chuckled and sat down with her coffee. “Thanks for accepting my invite.”

Frank gave a slight smile. “Professional courtesy,” he said. He peered at Sarah. “Say, don’t you have a daughter now? There’s a young surgeon doing clinical trials on a new cancer drug. She looks a lot like you back—”

“That’s Jessica,” said Sarah. She brushed the sleeve of her purple cardigan. “I hear she’s doing very well.”

Frank nodded. “That’s the best you can hope for, I guess. My boys turned out all right, despite everything.”

Sarah brushed a lock of grey hair from her brow. “How’s Anne?” she asked.

“She left after it,” he waved a hand in the air, “ended. I can’t say I blame her. The transition was hard. People like us can be hard to live with.” He sipped his coffee and frowned. “It’s gone cold,” he muttered. Sarah narrowed her ice-blue eyes until fresh wisps of steam wafted upwards. Frank nodded in appreciation. “Your PM didn’t say why you wanted to meet.”

Sarah traced a finger around the rim of her mug. “Frank, I know I haven’t exactly been good to you, but it’s been a long time and I thought—”

Frank put down his mug with exaggerated care and brushed the biscotti crumbs off the table. “I’m done with that,” he said. “Sure, it was a wild ride and I loved it, but I’m not a kid anymore, Sarah. Things are different now. Good and evil aren’t clear-cut, and how can you believe in heroes when your own government is…is—” he cut himself off. “A lot of people got hurt back then.”

Sarah took another sip and nodded. “They did. But I’ve changed too, Frank. I’d do it differently now.” She leaned forward and placed her hand on his arm. “You’re right. The world has changed. It’s worse than I would have made it. That’s why people need us.”

Frank blinked. “Are you…are you seriously suggesting,” he began, then shook his head. “No. It’s too crazy. My oldest, Gavin, is getting married this summer. I should be thinking about grandkids, not reliving an old chapter in my life.” He drained the last of his coffee and set the mug on the table, wincing as the handle crumbled to powder in his tight grip. Glancing about, he swept the debris onto the floor.

“It’s what we did, Frank, but it’s also who we are,” said Sarah.

“It’s who I used to be,” said Frank.

“And who are you now?”

Frank fiddled with his spoon. “I’m…I’m just a…”

“Retired superhero?” added Sarah wryly. “And what does that make me? You can’t have real goodness without real evil. When governments and TV networks are building villains up and tearing them down again, are they being heroic…or manipulators?”

“You’d know something about manipulation,” muttered Frank. He looked down at the twisted spoon and muttered a curse.

Sarah swallowed. “Maybe I do. But that doesn’t change what I said. What we did had meaning, and it gave people something to believe in. They need us.”

Frank slipped the pretzel-shaped spoon into the ruined mug. “Even if I agree,” he said slowly, “it can’t be like it was. Governments watch everything now. You couldn’t set up a base anywhere without some spy satellite finding you.”

Sarah held his gaze and smiled. “We’d be low-scale and local—at least at first. No big game plans like I used to have. Just you and me.”

“And what about bystanders?” asked Frank.

“No crossfire,” she said.

Frank straightened out his spoon. “What do you get out of this?”

“We were…associates…for, what, twenty years?” asked Sarah with a smirk. “I got to know you better than anyone—your hopes, vulnerabilities, everything. It’s kind of funny, but opposing you made me feel part of something. It gave life meaning. You’re all I’ve got now, and I’d rather spend what time I have left having that direction, that certainty, again.”

“Can’t you just let it go?” he asked.

“Have you?”

Frank closed his eyes and let the memories wash over him. He saw Joseph, Charles, and Hiram in their prime, all working alongside him to make the world safer and more just. It had given them a sense of purpose and Sarah had been part of that, in a way. But what use were heroes like them when nations could wipe out the planet ten times over? They were swept aside, drifted apart, grew old, and started to die. He looked at Sarah again. She smiled. She’s the last one, he thought.

Frank looked at the other patrons sipping and chatting away on the patio. They’ve forgotten, he thought. “All right then,” he said. “For old times’ sake.”

Sarah grinned and gave his hand a squeeze. “You won’t regret this, I promise.”

“When will I hear from you?”

Sarah stood and straightened her slacks. “Come now,” she said in an impish tone. “You know I never give advance warning.” She waved jauntily, stepped outside, and strolled down the street.

Frank left the shop and walked in the opposite direction. A spring crept into his step and he whistled a half-forgotten lively tune. Perhaps these times wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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