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Zoe stared out the window of the city bus wondering why she sent that email to Benji. Most of her friends were more worried about showing off their powers than caring about what was happening outside the school. By the time that school officials announced the early graduation she jumped at the chance. It was only after she had arrived home that she received a text about the fight that happened between Benji and the Killian brothers. She tried to go about her day like she normally would but eventually anxiety got the best of her. So now here she was sitting on a bus which was headed near Benji’s neighborhood.

A voice announced they were nearing the next stop, so she grabbed her bag and waited for the bus to stop before exiting. A moment later the bus continued on its route. She stood in front of a small grocery store which Benji said was very close to his house. After looking around she pulled up the map on her phone and followed the route to his house.

As she walked down the sidewalk, she wished that she had worn more sensible clothing instead of the skirt and camisole she was wearing. An older couple walked towards her on the sidewalk. She felt uncomfortable when she noticed the man leering at her as she passed. The sound of a slap and rushed apology from the man to his wife made her feel a bit better. She came to a stop in front of a small two story white house. The address matched the email he sent. She wasn’t sure what to expect while passing through the front gate. A few steps later, she reached up and rang the doorbell. A moment later she heard the lock turn and a second later the door opened.

She jumped back as a tall man in ancient looking armor walked through the door. He glared at her but made no effort to move. Zoe stared at the man until a hand grabbed him from behind causing the man to turn around.

“Damn it, Lu Bu. I told you that I would answer the door. Now step back, you’re scaring her.” The large man bowed his head before moving back into the house. Benji stepped into the doorway with an embarrassed look on his face.

Zoe had never seen Benji in normal clothes before. The tan shorts and brown hoodie he wore fit him well. His purple hair still held its spikiness. She put on her best smile and greeted him. “Hello, Benji. Thank you for letting me visit.”

“No problem.” He stepped back and motioned for her to come inside. “Sorry about that. He’s a bit overprotective.”

The inside of his house was quaint but was kept very neat and organized. The left side of the room held the kitchen and dining table. A boy with Asian features sat at the table trying his best to look casual. Behind him stood two knights in full armor.

Off to the right side was a couch and television. A thin, dark skinned boy sat on the couch flipping through the channels. He paused momentarily to lazily wave at her. A stairway and a single closed door separated the two living areas. Benji walked over to the table before offering her a seat. She took off her shoes at the door and chose a seat opposite of him and sat down. The man who Benji had called Lu Bu stood up against the wall near the entrance.

“So what brings you by? I never thought I’d have you over to visit.” A look of panic crossed his face. “It’s not that I don’t want you here! I’m glad you came by.”

“I’m sorry to intrude. I didn’t know you had so many guests.” She still wasn’t sure herself why she came.

“Oh, these are my friends. This is Duncan and that’s Alex on the couch.”

She bowed slightly to the two boys. She thought for a moment before continuing. “It’s been a rough day so far and I’m hoping that you would be able to understand what I’m going through.”

Concern flashed across his face. “I’ll listen to anything you have to say. We can talk upstairs if you want a bit more privacy.”

She shook her head. “No, this is fine.”

Zoe spent the next fifteen minutes explaining everything that happened since she last saw him. The more she spoke the more she realized how stressed out she actually was. She told him about her day at school. About how her friends were so focused on their powers and ignoring what was happening across the world. About how they had laughed off the World Spike as a minor annoyance. She told him about her father, an ER doctor, and how he was working so hard at the hospital.

“I’m just worried about what’s going to happen from now on, Benji. Why isn’t everyone taking all this seriously?”

“Zoe, you’re not alone. I wondered that myself. I think all we can do is focus on those people around us and help them through it. My mother actually took all this fairly well. She knew more about using her A.I. than I did.”

“She must be an amazing person. What about your father, Benji?”

“Oh, he died in a car accident when I was five years old.”

Zoe silently berated herself. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. It’s been so long that it doesn’t bother me much anymore.”

Zoe thought about her mother before speaking. “I know how you feel. My mom left when I was twelve. My father was so busy with work that she couldn’t handle being left alone with me. One day she just left. I haven’t heard from her since.”

For a minute they just sat there. Benji finally broke the silence. “I picked up some groceries earlier. Would you like something to eat? There's more than enough for everyone.”

“Oh! I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“It’s no trouble. It’s already prepared. All we need are a few plates.”

She watched as Benji walked into the kitchen and opened a backpack. Soon all sorts of sugary snacks found their way onto the table along with six bottles of some sort of soda and six cardboard containers. The smell coming from the containers made her stomach growl. Benji looked her way, causing her to feel a bit embarrassed.

“Sorry, I guess I’m hungrier than I thought.”

“Don’t feel bad. This came from the grocery store near here. It’s usually pretty good. Everyone, dig in. That means you too, Lu Bu.” Alex crossed the room and took a seat at the end of the table near Duncan. Lu Bu took a seat on the other side of the table between Benji and Duncan.

Benji walked into the kitchen and brought out a stack of plates and glasses. He opened each of the containers and placed them in the middle of the table. After motioning to her to help herself, he grabbed a few chicken nuggets and a potato croquette for himself. After Benji had his food she stood up and decided to take one each of the nuggets and one croquette. Benji smiled at her as he opened one of the large bottles of soda and filled his glass before placing the bottle near her. She poured herself a glass of the amber liquid. As she took a sip she was surprised to find that she quite enjoyed it. She didn’t drink soda often so it was a nice treat.

As they ate Benji and his friends talked about what happened to them earlier in the day. She had heard of the Killian brothers but she was lucky enough not to have dealt with them before. Benji explained who Lu Bu was and how instrumental he was to stopping the fight. Alex and Duncan both demonstrated and explained their powers. The more they talked the more she felt inadequate. All she could do was calm people down.

Once she finished her meal she simply sat and listened to the three friends chat while she sipped at her lemon ginger soda. When Benji offered a second helping of food she declined, her appetite now sated. He then pointed to the mountain of junk food and offered desert. She accepted and grabbed a candy bar at random.

“Well, how about you go rest on the couch while I clean up here. The remote is on the coffee table.” As he walked into the kitchen he called over his shoulder. “The restroom is upstairs, first door on the left if you need it.”

Zoe took her bag and walked towards the couch before turning and walking up the stairs. The hallway at the top of the steps had four doors. She turned the handle on the first door on the left which opened into the restroom. At first glance it was average but she noticed that all the fixtures were high quality. It was a stark contrast to an otherwise modest house. After she finished, she washed her hands and checked herself in the large mirror above the sink. Satisfied that she looked presentable she turned off the light and closed the door.

As she arrived at the bottom of the stairs she saw Benji on the couch flipping through channels on the television. Alex and Duncan sat in chairs to either side of the couch. She walked over and sat down next to Benji. The couch was just big enough to fit two people, leaving only a hands width between them. Benji looked over and spoke. “Don’t be afraid to get comfortable. Make yourself at home.”

“Um, where is Lu Bu?” She looked around but couldn’t find the large man or the knight. “Will he not be joining us?”

Benji shook his head. “He wanted to go stand guard out front and took the knights with him.”

Feeling a bit more relieved, she pulled her legs up underneath her and sat sideways facing Benji. After flipping a few more channels Benji stopped on one of Raven City’s local TV stations.

'And we’re back. During the commercial break there was an announcement from the World Government. The Prime Minister has announced that military personnel will be dispatched throughout the world as a result of the massive increase of crime following this mornings events. As a safety measure, all non-essential travel will be temporarily be restricted. Mandatory identification checkpoints will be set up. Any citizen whose appearance has changed as a result of their powers must update their profile. We advise that all of our viewers to update their government profile as soon as possible either by phone, Internet, or in person. Any citizen caught evading checkpoints will be arrested.'

Benji changed the channel after the reporters began speaking to a panel of experts. He stopped on a channel playing anime but Zoe had a hard time focusing on it. She couldn’t help thinking of the unknown. Now that the military would be involved meant that things would get far more dangerous. She wished that her father was there to hold her and tell her it would all be okay but his work was too important. She pulled her legs up to her chest and hugged them as she tried to watch TV.

As they sat and watched TV her anxiety subsided, leaving her feeling exhausted. Barely able to keep her eyes open she let out a single yawn. Moments later she fell into a peaceful sleep.

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dustinparker

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