The rest of the morning was a blur. I don't know how I got to school--or convinced the office that I wasn't drunk. Somehow, I managed to get a late slip and stumbled into my pre-calc class.
The teacher stopped in the middle of explaining how to solve quadratic polynomials as I came in. I got a few stares; I wasn't the sort to be late. But after that, things went back to normal.
By lunch, I was starting to feel better--good enough to eat, anyway. I wasn't feeling up to entertaining any company, though, so I made my way to an empty table and started gnawing on what passed for the cafeteria's pizza.
That's when I noticed her. Anna Spencer.
She was a pretty girl, but most people kept their distance. She was a cape-watcher--the sort of obsessive compulsive who'd sit on lawn chairs outside of random caves in the desperate hope of catching a glimpse of the bat-mobile. She had an obsession with superheroes that bordered on the surreal. I think her parents were capes, back in the day. It was the only thing she'd ever talk about.
Struck by the opportunity, I got up out of my seat and made my way over to her.
"Uh," she began, staring at me as I sat down across from her. By the way she was shirking away, I could guess what she was thinking--either I was here under a dare or to tease her. Rather than try to address either concern, I just dove right into it.
"The Skull. What do you know about--" I stopped myself a moment before the word 'her' left my lips. As far as the world was concerned... "Him?"
She blinked, staring at me with bewilderment.
I could feel a few stares accumulating on my back--but honestly, I didn't care. I wasn't very popular at school anyway. Losing my 'cool girl' cred by associating with a known 'spaz' wasn't something I'd lose sleep over.
She shuffled in her chair, still staring at me. Probably was trying to figure out exactly how this line of questioning was going to lead to her being publically humiliated.
I sighed. "Look. I need to find out about superheroes, okay? I heard you know about this sort of stuff."
"Um. Okay," she said. "You said you wanted to know about, uh--"
"The Skull," I said.
"That's kind of an old one," she replied. "Hasn't been around for a while. Sovereign, he's pretty amazing, and he's still active--"
"The Skull," I repeated.
"Right. Um, okay. Nobody really knows, but the best guess is super strength and super speed," she said, ticking them off on her fingers. "Also immortality, though since he disappeared, like, five years ago, most people figure that he was faking that."
"You know, passing on the costume to the next generation, who'd pretend to be the original," she replied.
So much for that secret.
"Right," I said. "So where do the Skull's powers come from?"
"Nobody knows," she said. "Most capes have an extensive back-story, but the Skull--he just kind of showed up. Was one of the very, very first--way back in the Society, in the late 19th century."
"Okay," I said. "So, does he have any weaknesses?" I figure that if I'm going to develop a sudden fatal allergy to pickles or meteorites from Krypton, it'd be good to know in advance.
"No," she said. "But really, hardly anyone knows much about him. He's one of the few heroes who stayed rogue."
"Stayed 'rogue'?" I asked.
"When all heroes had to get licensed, back in the sixties," she said. "The Skull refused. Technically, he's a vigilante--the police could arrest him and drag his butt into a courtroom--but no one ever had the guts to try it. The Skull's one scary dude, you know?"
"Is he?" I asked, trying not to smile at the thought of my mother being characterized as 'one scary dude'.
She must have gotten the inkling that I was honestly interested in this--I saw the tension on her face start to melt away, replaced with genuine passion. "Yeah, I mean, like--the Skull has everybody terrified of him. Nobody even knows all his powers. He's all mysterious and stuff, you know? Some people think his power comes from magic--are you okay?"
"Mmf?" I looked down at my plate. I had just finished wolfing down the second pizza and was now moving on to the fries. I dimly realized that I had been jamming the food in my mouth; on top of that, my stomach was growling for more.
"Mmf," I said, swallowing. "Fine. Look, can we, uh--talk about this a little more later on? I've got--a report on it."
"You're doing a report on the Skull?" she asked, staring at me with incredulity.
"Something like that--look, I'll explain later," I said, wanting to buy more time to think up a convincing lie. I needed to go get more food, I realized. I was getting dizzy with hunger. "I've got to go. Can I talk to you after school, maybe? Like, to learn more about the Skull."
"Sure," she said, staring at me with puzzlement.
I got up, dragging my tray toward the back end of the cafeteria. When my turn came up, I took four more slices of pizza, along with two helpings of fries--and four cartons of chocolate milk.
"Grabbing lunch for a friend?" the lunch-lady asked, smiling.
"Yeah," I replied, paying with a bill. "Keep the change."
Avoiding the eyes on my back, I quickly moved out of the cafeteria and found a quiet place in the hall. Then, when I was sure no one was watching, I started to gorge.