His dad’s going to kill him. Looking down at his chemistry test, Ryaan Asfour can’t take his eyes off the large, “C,” circled several times in red pen. It’s easily the worst grade he’s gotten this year. When his dad checks the web portal to see his newest grades and sees it he’s likely to end up grounded, again.
Something had to go wrong. Things have gone too smoothly the last few weeks. He’s settled into a routine that’s helped him consistently get out in the neighborhood and try to keep it safe. People have started talking about the guy in the green mask. It’s still a weird wrestling mask that looks awful but if his friend Mina does what she’s promised his costume’s going to be a lot better very soon.
Chemistry class is dismissed and he’s excited to get to lunch. Today’s taco day and he’s starving. Caught in the stampede out the door, Ryaan almost doesn’t hear his teacher say, “Can you stay behind for a minute Ryaan?” He considers pretending not to hear her and getting out but with a sigh he peels away from the pack and walks to his teacher’s desk.
Her eyebrows go up but she doesn’t say anything about his address. “I wanted to check in after that test. That’s your lowest score ever. By a lot. One C isn’t the end of the world but I’m used to you pulling in way better grades. Anything going on at home?”
Cringing, Ryaan doesn’t want to get his dad involved. “Thanks for asking but I’m okay. Struggled a little with the thermodynamic stuff but I think I’ll be good going forward.”
She frowns. “If you think so that’s fine, but we have an excellent tutoring program if you’re interested. It’s helped a lot of students who needed an extra boost. You have another test coming up at the start of next week and it’s a big one.”
“I’ll be okay. I’m going to put more time into studying.”
She seems to realize he isn’t going to take the bait so he’s dismissed with a warning to study harder. Ryaan usually would stuff his bag in his locker before lunch but there’s no time. The lines for the taco bar are already going to be huge. Charging toward the lunch room, he turns the corner to the seating area and his jaw drops.
Hundreds of students are separated into their little cliques at various tables. Almost all of them have a set of goggles either on their head or sitting on the table next to them. A large, cheerful hall monitor sees Ryaan coming and jogs over to press a pair into his hand. Turning them over a few times, they’re a cheap plastic set but they’re definitely goggles. The monitor’s already moved onto other students entering the cafeteria so Ryaan follows, tacos now the furthest thing from his mind. “Hold on, what’s with all the goggles?”
The large man has goggles running up and down his arms. A box overflowing with them sits on the floor a few feet away. “It’s Goggle weekend, the mayor made the announcement a few hours ago. We’re honoring the Goggle Guys. They saved the aquarium yesterday.”
Lost for words, Ryaan stands there staring at the man. He has to shake his head, wondering if this is a dream. Can he mean the Goggle Guys? The same ones from their neighborhood? The same fools who inspired him to become a vigilante because they were doing such an awful job? He starts to walk away before turning back. “To be clear, you mean the Goggle Guys from around here? Pair of guys wearing aviator goggles, tons of leather, always have shotguns on them?”
Grinning ear to hear the man says, “They’re the ones. That’s why the school decided to celebrate today. Not very often we get to celebrate local celebrities in Bridgeview.” The man digs through his pocket and pulls out a crumpled page from the morning paper. This was in the paper? He really needs to start paying more attention to the news. Unfolding the page he reads:
Hundreds of students on a field trip were saved from certain death yesterday when local vigilantes the Goggle Guys located a bomb set to explode at Shield Aquarium. Authorities are investigating the bomb but so far have no leads.
The Goggled vigilantes were at the aquarium enjoying the exhibits but their leader Jimmy was still ready to take action when they noticed something seemed off. “We don’t get days off. That’s okay I guess, we brought our guns for a reason. We’d have blown right up along with everyone else. Important thing is everyone’s safe and sound.”
Mayor Blaze has declared this weekend Goggle Weekend and will be honoring the heroes at a special festival in Millennium Park Saturday afternoon.
President Hughes tweeted his support for the pair. When asked about it during a meeting with the press last night he said, “Terrible that people would target a place where families have gone to spend a nice day with their kids. We’ll find whoever’s behind this. I’m giving the authorities in Chicago whatever they need. Terrible as it is, this is another example of how the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act works. Those men were prepared and able to help in time to avoid disaster.”
He’s read enough and hands the paper back to the hall monitor who already is back to tossing goggles at students. Turning them over in his hands, something seems off. “Don’t they wear aviator goggles? These are swimming goggles.”
The man shrugs and keeps handing them out. Between students he tries to juggle the goggles but keeps dropping them on the floor. “Aviator goggles are expensive. We’re on a budget. We want to get the point across, not spend a fortune.”
The line for tacos stretches twenty students deep by the time he gets there and too much of his lunch period’s already wasted. Not hungry at this point, Ryaan shuffles over to the empty pizza line and grabs a slice of cheese pizza. After paying he scans the cafeteria for his basketball teammates and finds them sitting at a table in the back corner by the fire exit. A few seats remain at their table so he plops his trey down at one and slumps into a seat. The sight of every one of them having a taco platter makes his stomach grumble. He knew his hunger would return.
Of the six guys sitting here only two are wearing their goggles. Three pairs are tossed on the table while one of his teammates doesn’t seem to have a pair. His friend Jesse’s got his pair on and he looks at Ryaan’s pizza. “Since when don’t you get tacos man?”
He shrugs. “Line was too long. Why are you wearing those things?
Taking the goggles off, Jesse spins them on his finger. “Dunno, they were free. Did you hear what these guys did? Someone was gonna blow up the aquarium and they stopped it. Someone told me they blew through three guys.”
James, one of their senior teammates throws a piece of lettuce at Jesse. “Don’t go spreading that, the news didn’t say anything about blowing through anyone.”
Jesse grabs the lettuce and tosses it back. “You believe everything the news tells you man? They keep a lot of stuff quiet. Probably don’t want people to know how dangerous it was. We’re lucky the vigilantes were there.”
Biting into his pizza, the crust is so grease soaked that it actually squishes. The cheese has a nice crust at least. Ryaan wants to push it away but he’s too hungry for that. “What do you all know about these guys? They’re always running around my neighborhood and I’ve heard nothing good. Apparently they’re harassing a lot of people and shoving guns in people’s faces.”
Shrugging, Jesse tears into his tacos. With a mouth full he says, “Can’t believe everything you hear. These guys may not be angels but I’m glad they’re around. Better than hundreds of people blowing up. They’re heroes.”
Awkward looks circle the table. James runs his hands through his long hair and shakes his head. “Man, I’ve heard too much for it to be nothing. Someone down the street from me was stopped and frisked because they looked suspicious. They weren’t doing anything but the guys still threatened them before letting them go. Of course they were middle eastern.”
“Hold on,” Jesse says. “I ran into them a couple weeks ago and they were cool to me. I think you’re all blowing this up.”
Finishing his tacos, James starts to get up, snorting as he does so. “Of course you wouldn’t, you’re never going to have trouble with them. These guys are bad news though.” Walking away, Ryaan notices he doesn’t take a pair of goggles with him.
Jesse looks back and forth between his remaining teammates with confusion painted on his face. “How do you guys know they’re bad? Have you seen them? Have they done anything to you or anyone you know well?”
Tossing his goggles on the table, Ryaan starts picking the toppings off the pizza since the rest isn’t edible. “I have actually. They hit me with their gun after threatening me. A girl I know was chased into an alley and they wanted to feel her up. These guys are gross and its gross people are celebrating them because they did one good thing.”
Silence fills the table. People at the closest tables to them shut up as well and Ryaan can feel their eyes on him. Jesse’s jaw drops and he puts his hand over his face. “I’m sorry dude, I didn’t know. That’s messed up. Who’s the girl?”
He looks at the ground. “Not my place to say, that’s her story.”
“Fair enough man, is she okay though?”
Is she okay? He hasn’t even thought of how Mina must be handling this. She’s terrified of these guys and now their school’s a shrine to them. He stands and grabs the remainder of his food. “She’s alright, but remember who these guys are.”
Darting away from his table, Ryaan searches the cafeteria for any sign of Mina. She has a group of friends she usually eats lunch with but when he finds them she’s not there. He ducks down at the end of the table. “Any of you seen Mina?”
A tall blonde freshman smiles at him, flashing a set of colorful braces. “She was in class earlier but I haven’t seen her since lunch started. Maybe she went home sick?”
Another girl at the table shakes her head. “Seemed fine last period.”
Nobody knows where she is so Ryaan thanks them and heads out of the cafeteria. Pulling out his phone he decides to text her.
Where are you?
It doesn’t take long to get a reply.
Leave me alone.
Where are you?
I’m in the girls room, leave me alone.
Come talk to me.
Meet me near Bushman’s class.
There’s no further response which he takes as acceptance. He walks to Mr. Bushman’s class and waits outside. A hall monitor walks by and gives him a smile but they don’t bother him. Mina doesn’t show up after a few minutes. He considers texting her again right when he sees her pass by the next hall over. She’s unable to resist glancing his way and when she sees him waiting her shoulders dip and she throws her head back. Ryaan jogs down the hall to catch her.
Deciding not to run, Mina waits for him but crosses her arms while doing so. “I told you to leave me alone Ryaan.”
Coming to a stop, Ryan puts his hands up in a show of surrender. “I know, and I will. First I want to make sure you’re okay though. When I saw all the goggles I thought about how you’d be doing and then you weren’t at your normal table.”
“Well I don’t much feel like sitting around celebrating those jerks. Figured you’d get that.”
“Absolutely, I didn’t either. You know what they did to me. I can’t even imagine those guys stopping a bombing.”
Closing her eyes, a small smile forms on Mina’s face. “The only way I can see it is if the big one sat on it.”
They both laugh but it doesn’t last long. “Are you handling things okay? Any problems with other vigilantes lately? Things are running smooth but you haven’t told me much.”
“You haven’t asked.”
“I’m asking now.”
Sighing deeply, tears start to form around the edges of Mina’s eyes. “Well I’ve had like five nightmares about them. I’m afraid to go home any way except on the bus. Even then I see them at least once a week and feel like I have to run every time. If they notice me though they’ll use that as another reason I’m suspicious. I don’t know what to do. I can’t talk to my parents about it without telling how you helped me. I don’t know who I can talk to.”
He wants to hug her but they don’t have that sort of relationship. Instead he pats her on the shoulder which feels more awkward. “You can talk to me. If you want to talk to your parents you should do that too. Don’t worry about them figuring out who I am. Don’t tell them if you don’t have to but that’s really my problem to worry about.”
Uncrossing her arms, Mina wipes the last tears from her face. “What if I was to talk to Nadia about it? I don’t want to make things weird for you but she’s one of my best friends and I know she won’t sell me out.”
“If that works for you then talk to her. Nadia’s a good listener.”
Mina frowns. “I know she is. Mostly I’m afraid she’d figure out you’re the vigilante who saved me. Especially with us talking a lot lately.”
“She doesn’t know that, we mostly do it by text or here at school. The only time we hung out anywhere else she came along and my dad made me go. Even if she figures it out, that’s for me to deal with. Might not be the worst thing.”
Mina’s eyes go wide and she looks like she wants to jump up and down, smiling for the first time since they started talking. She grabs him by the shoulders but when she realizes she’s done so her hands shoot back and go rigid at her sides. Her grin doesn’t go anywhere. “You should tell her. You should totally tell her. She wouldn’t sell you out and she can help with your dad. Plus then you’d have someone to talk about this with.”
“I have you.”
Blushing, Mina looks down at the floor. “That’s sweet, but you need someone else to talk with. She’s a good choice. At least think about it.”
Bells ringing signal the end of lunch. They’re on the clock with only five minutes to reach their next classes. Ryaan promises to consider her suggestion before the pair say an awkward goodbye and head to their next classes. Should he let his sister know what he’s doing? He’s terrified she’d run to their dad but she’s kept secrets for him before. If he’s going to take a risk on anyone, she might be the best choice.