You adjust your clothes, tugging a bit on the hem of the plain white t-shirt you wore underneath an unbuttoned navy blue work shirt, and look up at the house you have worked so hard to keep safe. It smells like fresh tortillas and jalapenos as you climb the creaking porch steps and ring the doorbell. While you wait, you look around - the lawn looks well watered and there’s a blackened spot in the middle of the road, but there aren’t many other signs of the conflict that had so recently occurred. A neighbor is walking down the street with a little yappy dog, and you turn back to the house and, after a moment, ring the doorbell again.
You can hear someone walking inside, and the door is opened by a sweet looking blonde girl in an oversized cardigan. She is in her late teens, but looks at the floor awkwardly like someone much younger. You open your mouth to say hello, and she looks up, eyes a little unfocused. “Anna’s in the kitchen.”
Well, this is awkward. You start to introduce yourself, and she cuts you off again. “Nice to meet you, Jane. I’m Susie.”
“Is someone at the door? ‘Tonio, I’ve told you we need the bell fixed -” Anna’s voice grows louder as she approaches from the back of the house, wiping her hands on an apron.
“I’m not a fixit guy!” Antonio hollers in the distance. “Call Alonso!” Anna rolls her eyes, and puts her arm around Susie, who flinches but doesn’t pull away.
“I am so sorry about that, I hope you haven’t been standing here long,” she says, her words slightly accented. She was born in Spain, you remember, having moved to the United States with her family when she was a preteen. “Susie, can you - “ The girl stuffs her hands into the pockets of her cardigan and walks back into the house, leaving Anna’s words dangling. She gamely finishes anyway, “-go keep an eye on the garden, I don’t want Ronnie pulling up the baby carrots again thinking they’re weeds!”
“I’m Jane Meyers,” you say, and Anna focuses on you, a spark of recognition in her brown eyes. “I called earlier.”
“Si, si, of course, please come in.” She feels more guarded, but still friendly as she ushers you inside to a living room with two mismatched couches in it. “Please, have a seat, Jane - oh, not there, there’s a bad spring - here, on the blue one.” She directs you to your seat, and then lowers herself carefully into a floral armchair, and you belatedly realize that under the apron she is obviously pregnant. No husband though, and from your research you know she’s remarkably Catholic. Interesting.
“I wanted to stop by, and make sure you and the kids are doing okay.” Your words sound plain in your ears, and lacking in the surety that Deimos always had when he was talking to those outside the League. But then, you aren’t Deimos, and you certainly aren’t a salesman. You don’t have the time or patience for lies, or other forms of sweet talk. “The League -”
Anna put up a hand to stop you. “I am very grateful for the help your people gave us the other night. Truly. But I am worried, too. Why us?”
“Anna, the League does not stand under one banner - we do not all believe that violence is the only answer.” She folded her arms across her chest, and you continued on, “I know the name has a bad rep, but it is my hope that we can work with you. The work you are doing here, for our kind,” she seemed to bristle at that and you cursed your inelegant word choices, “is remarkable.”
“We are all equal, Jane,” she says. “Gifted or no, I try to teach my kids acceptance and peace.”
“Of course, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise,” you say. Is it hot in here?
“They have been so mistreated in their short lives,” she continues. “It is easy to fall into patterns of hate when it is all you’ve been shown. Here, I show them a different way.”
“And I admire that,” you say, trying to smile. “This is what I want to protect - your work here is so important. Let us work with you - a very silent partner - to make sure you can do what you do best, uninterrupted.”
“Just a minute,” she says, pushing herself upright. “I have to check on lunch.” Anna hesitates, and then says, “Join me in the kitchen?”
You nod, and follow her down the hall, a small purple girl ducking out of the way and then running up the stairs as you pass by. The kitchen is the only obviously upgraded part of the house, granite counter tops and newer appliances. Antonio is standing at the island, haphazardly chopping a mound of green and red peppers. Anna tsks at him, and takes the knife away. “Look what you’ve done. I swear you do this on purpose so I won’t ask you to help.”
He grins cheekily, and says, “You’ll never prove anything,” and ducks a swat, dancing around the corner of the island until he’s near you. “I’m Antonio,” he says, holding out his hand and putting on his most winning smile and winking.
“Jane,” you supply, shaking his hand a bit abruptly. You aren’t used to people hitting on you, but maybe Antonio just doesn’t know any other way to approach a woman. Or maybe he isn’t hitting on you.
“‘Tonio,” says Anna, “She is from ...the League.”
“Really?” he says, looking at you with renewed interest. “Oh yeah, I thought you looked familiar. Crazy night, the other day. Your girl with the red hair, she really came in handy. I dunno what we would have done without you guys. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” you say. “I just wanted to stop by and make sure everything is still going well. No reprisals from the Locos, or anything?”
“No,” says Anna, and Antonio says, “Not yet. Those pricks are just waiting for the heat to cool down a bit before they hit again.”
Anna frowns at him, and adds, “The police have been very helpful.”
You turn a bit, glancing down the hallway toward the front door. “I didn’t see a patrol car out front. I thought they might offer to sit outside for a couple days.”
Anna’s lips tighten a bit. “They were here yesterday. They said they don’t feel that we are in further danger at the moment, but they have been doing extra patrols.”
“They just don’t want to waste resources on us, hermana,” says ‘Tonio, scooting onto a stool at the island. He nudges a second stool toward you, and after a moment of hesitation you sit while Anna bustles about the kitchen. “I think the cops think we instigated it. Victim blaming! I guess because we managed to defend ourselves that means we were fucking asking for it.”
“‘Tonio!” Anna points her big knife at him, and he throws up his hands in defense.
“Sorry, we were freaking asking for it.” He rolls his eyes. “I mean, we needed the help from you guys, and I’m glad you showed, but I think the police would be more helpful if the house had gotten shot up or something.”
Anna looks out the window over the sink toward the backyard. “Thanks to Susie I was able to get the ice up in time. The police pulled several bullets out of it before it all melted.”
“That was amazing to watch, by the way,” you manage to interject into the siblings’ conversation. “The control you have over it, and to create something so big! I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Anna flushes pink, and waves away the praise. “It was nothing.”
“It was awesome,” agrees ‘Tonio. As an aside, to you, “My sister doesn’t like to ‘show off,’ but she should.”
“Unwanted attention,” Anna says. “We are more than our special abilities.” She dumps the peppers into a hot pan with an onion she managed to slice when you weren’t paying attention, and the smell fills the room.
The conversation has flown past the work of the LAPD, and you can’t find an easy way back to the points you wanted to make. “We are,” you simply agree. “And yet we still have them, and shouldn’t be targeted because of them. Gangs like the Locos making a move like this against a house full of kids is very worrying. And the police were late to the party.”
“She’s right,” says ‘Tonio. “We can’t depend on the cops to have our backs - at least not fast enough.”
Well, he’s practically doing your work for you. “Do you know why the Locos targeted you?”
Anna shakes her head, her back to you as she sautes the veggies. Antonio’s jaw bulges a bit, clenching his teeth as he looks toward the backyard.
“Really? I heard they had some sort of beef with one of the teens, or something,” you say. “I was hoping to find out what it was exactly. If it was like traded insults, or something similar, I’d say they’re overreacting, and that could mean they’ll be back for more, and soon. I don’t want to scare you, Anna, but -”
“It’s my fault,” grits out ‘Tonio, his fingers and arm beginning to turn greyish to match the counter they were resting on. “Some of their boys were bothering Ronnie and Aimee when they were walking home from the store a week or so ago. Aimee, she’s the - well anyway, they pushed her around a bit.”
Anna turns around, hands on her hips, while ‘Tonio is talking. It looks like she hasn’t heard this story before. “They didn’t want to tell you, Anna, and I promised I wouldn’t. Sorry, I know it was the wrong call. Anyway, I thought I could handle it myself. I got in the faces of some of the Locos at the basketball courts. I might have punched a couple of them.”
“Okay, okay, I did, but they had it coming. Think they can be racist pieces of shit to a kid just because she’s purple? I’d do it again,” he says. “Aimee can’t do it, so I did.”
“Let me get this straight,” you say, “You punched a couple of them and they responded with an attempted drive-by and kidnapping?” You’d be incredulous if you weren’t already pretty sure of the answer.
“They don’t think we’re human,” growls Antonio. “You can justify a lot when you tell yourself it’s monstruos you’re going against.”
“Then the police definitely aren’t taking this seriously enough, Anna,” you say, concerned. “There’s no telling what they’ll do next now that they’ve gotten their noses bloodied.”
The back door opens and a couple younger teens tumble inside, laughing and talking. Susie follows, picking at a piece of lint on her cardigan. “Scott, Ronnie! Go wash up!” Anna shoos them out of the kitchen and you can hear them thundering up the stairs, still trading good natured insults. Your eyes linger on Susie, who seems to be staring at the wall. Antonio watches you, and when Susie blinks and continues walking to the dishwasher he catches your eye.
“You met Susie already?” he asks.
You nod. “I’ve met a few telepaths before, but it’s fascinating every time. No offense,” you add.
He grins. “Oh, little Susie isn’t a telepath,” but he can’t tell you any more before Anna is inviting you to stay for lunch, which you accept. It’s a raucous affair, and you can feel yourself loosening up a bit as the kids chat around the table, stuffing fajitas into their faces. You are loathe to return to your regularly scheduled diet of TV dinners and fast food after tasting Anna’s home cooking, and you are sure to compliment her on the meal.
“Gracias,” she says. “We grow the veggies here - well it’s too early for peppers, but generally… the garden and other chores are part of the deal when they move in.”
“It’s really great what you are doing here, for them” you say, indicating the kids. “If we run into any kids that need help, would it be okay if we bring them to you? With funding, of course, for their care.”
“Please do,” she says, her eyes warm as she looks down the long table at the six teens she was giving shelter to. Susie hands Ronnie a napkin, which he ignores, and then the filling falls out of his fajita and into his lap. Exasperated, he takes the napkin, and Anna turns back to you. “I called this place Redención House, because it’s a place of second chances. And there is always room for one more.”
When the meal was over and you were saying good-bye, you slipped a card into Anna’s hand. “My number,” you say. “For emergencies. Please don’t hesitate if you need anything.”
“Of course, thank you,” she replies, and tucks it into her apron pocket. Anna watches you from the porch as you walk to your car, and you think you can see a little fear in her eyes as she looks down the street. You lift your arm in a wave, and she returns the gesture before heading back inside.