“You’re better than a big sister,” confessed Sandy.
The child’s words filled Mina’s heart to bursting, forcing a smile onto her face. She knew that Sandy had gotten attached to her, but had no idea how much.
“Thanks,” answered Mina, her hair caught in the ocean breeze, billowing out like rainbow colored strands of shimmering silk.
The Seaside Boardwalk was one of Mina’s favorite places and she was excited to bring Sandy to see it. While it was a bit of a trek, it was worth it to be able to play in the ocean, play games, and eat all kinds of unhealthy food. Just smelling the scent of hamburgers and french fries mixed with the salt air was enough to send Mina’s heart soaring.
Mina had been babysitting Sandy on and off for a few months now, and Sandy’s parents had begun to treat her more like a nanny than a next door neighbor. Looking at the excitement and wonder in Sandy’s eyes, she wondered if Sandy’s parents ever brought her there. Mina was positive that it was the best place to bring a kid, and thought that anyone that would rather keep one at home was unnecessarily unkind, maybe even unloving.
She wondered if they were just pawning Sandy off on her. While she was certainly responsible enough and could provide the care Sandy needed, she had very few people that could vouch for her. As far as the government was concerned, Mina didn’t even exist, so it wasn’t like they could have run a background check on her.
“Can we ice cream?” asked Sandy, who had gotten into the habit of using food as a verb when she wanted to eat.
Mina scanned the busy boardwalk, looking past the caricature artists and T-shirt stalls and to the long line coming from a concession stand shaped like an ice cream cone.
“C’mon,” invited Mina with a smile, “Hold my hand. There’s a lot of people around.”
The crowd was packed tightly around the ice cream stand. No one was pushing, but people seemed annoyed and terribly close together. Mina felt herself getting nervous. Crowds made her anxious. She worried that a tight crowd could lead to conflict, and conflict invariably led to her using her powers. If she used her powers, it meant that someone would be hurt and she didn’t want Sandy to have to see that.
Sandy held onto Mina’s hand firmly, her head weaving, her neck stretching as she struggled to see the menu of flavors. Seeing her struggle, Mina lifted her up and put the child on her shoulders, drawing awkward stares from some people in the crowd, but Mina didn’t know why. Perhaps it was their matching striped bathing suits?
“What do you think you’ll want?” asked Mina loudly, hoping that Sandy could hear her.
“Cotton candy!” chirped Sandy gleefully.
“Cotton candy ice cream?” asked Mina.
She had seen plenty of wonders, but candy flavored ice cream wasn’t one of them. She grinned at the ingenuity of humanity as she took a step forward, the line crawling slowly towards the counter where two girls rushed to fill orders.
Mina thought back on her time amongst humans. She thought of the unexpected kindnesses of her friend Lyle, who had lost his lifelong friend when she took over his body. Lyle was still a crude joker, but he was a good friend, and she felt like he was always looking out for her even though she could easily take care of herself.
There were the young vigilantes that she had joined up with – Sam, John, Roxy, and Garth, also known as the Swordsman, HammerTime, Seraphin, and Brass Balls Macmillan. They managed to save a few lives, and mostly managed to keep from getting knicked by the cops. Mostly it was for fun, and if things ever got hairy, Mina had actual powers that could get them out of nearly any tough spot.
Except for the parking ticket they were issued when HammerTime parked the Danger Van in a no parking zone.
She was happy, even though not everyone she met was so kind. She was amazed by the pettiness that some people showed and disgusted by some of the things that people did to each other out of greed, lust, and hate.
A finger poked the small of her back, warm and rough against her exposed skin. Her first instinct was to fight; she twisted around violently, Sandy cheering as she whirled unexpectedly. Mina balled her hand into a fist, and was ready to swing mercilessly when she saw that it was a short, old man with jiggling jowls and a few stray hairs atop his head. His wife, a turtle-like woman that had little in the way of a neck was scowling at her.
Mina relaxed her fingers and forced a smile onto her face.
“It’s not polite to poke,” she chimed.
“Feh,” the man grunted, his face squished into a disapproving frown.
Sandy looked down on the man and stuck her tongue out, blowing a disrespectful raspberry as loudly as she could.
“Some kid she’s got,” huffed the woman indignantly.
She spoke in a hushed tone that was meant to be heard. Mina did her best not to listen, but the woman’s words became increasingly callous. Sandy leaned over, whispering into Mina’s ear:
“Why aren’t you gonna punch them? They’re being mean, saying bad things about you.”
“I want to know where the father is. That child needs some structure,” observed the man.
His voice was louder and drew the crowd’s attention. Other people in the line began to mutter and point at Mina, Sandy, the old man, and his wife.
“I bet she doesn’t even know who he is,” the woman scoffed.
“He lives right next door.” smirked Mina, looking the woman directly in the eyes.
“Oh, you’re one of those,” the man condescended.
“One of what?” asked Mina.
She wanted to goad the man on, to give him enough rope to hang himself with.
“A hussy,” hissed the woman.
The man crossed his arms and smiled in defiance. Everyone in line forgot that they were waiting for ice cream – even the girls at the counter were watching the drama unfold.
“I’m not a hussy,” replied Mina calmly, “I’m her nanny.”
The man’s defiant smile diminished like a tire with a slow leak. The old woman waddled forward, looking Mina up and down.
“Dressed like that?” she said, like it was supposed to be a finishing blow in their battle of words.
“It’s the boardwalk. Bathing suits are okay,” snapped Sandy.
“Just because you aren’t wearing one doesn’t mean we can’t.”
Mina narrowed her eyes, glaring at the woman who stormed off, grabbing her husband’s arm as she went. The crowd cheered Mina, who began to blush and beam. She was proud that she had stood up for herself and that Sandy followed suit.
When Mina walked up to the counter, the girl behind it smiled at her. The girl’s eyes grew large, as did her smile, which was now wide, toothy, and sincere, rather than the perfunctory one she had been giving.
“You’re her!” she said, “Bonnie, look! It’s that magic girl!”
“Nisha, it is not,” snorted the other girl, not looking up from the scoop of ice cream she was carefully piling into a sugar cone.
Bonnie walked over to Nisha, forcing her to turn her head with two hands skillfully placed on her chin and crown.
“Oh my god! It is. Wow! You are so awesome!” Nisha marveled.
“I’m not, uh, her?” uttered Mina.
“She sure is,” announced Sandy.
“You beat up that floating dude on the highway. I totally saw it online. You can’t mistake that hair,” raved Bonnie, taking out her cell phone.
“C’mon. Take our picture,” she instructed while pushing her phone into Nisha’s hand,
“It’s okay, right magic girl?”
“Mina,” said Mina, trying to lean in, Sandy still on her shoulders.
“Cheese!” belted Sandy, smiling a big, corny grin.
Mina blushed slightly as the picture was snapped and the phone was passed around between the teenaged staff. The girls complimented Mina’s beauty and Sandy’s cuteness, while the boys were much more shy. Everyone wanted a picture with Mina, and Mina obliged. She and Sandy were rewarded with free ice cream cones. Cotton candy flavored. Extra tall.
“Why do people act like that?” asked Sandy as she sat next to Mina on a bench, letting her legs swing to and fro.
Mina thought about it, and chose her words carefully.
“People want to be special and to do great things, but they don’t always have a chance to. Yeah, they can do charity work or give homeless people food, but that stuff doesn’t scratch the itch, I guess. They want to be able to make a big difference, something that they can see right away. Lifting a car up and smashing an alien with a ray gun is a lot more instantly fulfilling than sending money to some foundation.
“And because of that, they want to be close to people who can do what they only dream of.”
Sandy listened, licking her ice cream cone contemplatively.
“Because they wish they were you, they want to have their picture taken with you?” she asked.
“I guess,” answered Mina, chomping the top off of her ice cream, enjoying the sickly-sweet flavor. She was sure that it would immediately rot out all of her teeth if her body wasn’t magical.
“How about those old people?” asked Sandy, “Why don’t they want to be like you?”
“Maybe they do,” responded Mina.
She felt the ice cream melting on her hand, and licked her skin clean before chomping into the tall pink and blue twisted tower once again. She’d have to eat much faster, or else it would all run down her arm sooner than later.
“Can I be like you someday?” asked Sandy.
“You are like me,” she said, wiping the drips of ice cream off of Sandy’s face.
“Nu-uh,” disagreed Sandy, “I can’t do any of the things that you can. And I’m not like you are. You’re pretty, and smart, and strong. I’m just me.”
“And you are smart and strong. You’re pretty cute too,” assured Mina.
“You might not be able to leap three miles in one jump, but you can stand-up in what you believe in. That’s a power that not a lot of people have.”
Mina and Sandy spent the whole day at the seaside. They collected rocks and shells as the waves lapped the shore and played lots of carnival games. Mina excelled at all the games, and as she won more and more stuffed animals of increasingly larger size, the booth attendants started to look upon her with fear. It was after she shattered the ‘Test your Strength” machine that Mina decided that it was almost time to go home.
“It’s almost time to go,” she announced.
Sandy, obscured by a stuffed elephant that was almost as large as she was, frowned but didn’t protest.
“We’ll go on one ride,” Mina said, “the carousel.”
Beneath a colorful sky, Mina and Sandy raced for the old carousel. Mina helped Sandy onto a fierce looking stallion, its mouth open in defiance of its bit, it’s eyes painted with a wild stare. She snapped the webbed belt around Sandy and stood next to her as the carousel sprang to life, jerking forward.
Sandy cheered with abandon as Mina stood by her protectively, making sure that the horse’s steady up and down motion didn’t throw Sandy off balance. She saw a couple holding hands, sitting in a seashell drawn by mer-beasts. The looked like they were in love, like there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.
“Get on a horsey!” shouted Sandy.
“Ride!” she ordered.
Mina looked at the horse nearest Sandy. It was white with a look on its face like it was laughing at its own jokes. Mina shrugged and sprang onto the horse as it rose upwards.
She looked to Sandy, who was holding on to her horse’s saddle.
Sandy seemed so happy that Mina wished that the ride could last forever. She glanced around and saw how much fun everyone seemed to be having. No one was thinking about anything but the glee of the moment. When the ride began to slow down, she felt a tinge of sadness.
“Can we go again?” asked Sandy.
The couple in the seashell kissed each other lightly, smiled at one another, and then walked off of the ride holding hands.
“We need to get home,” announced Mina.
Sandy grimaced and crossed her arms in defiance.
“None of that,” coaxed Mina gently, unfastening the belt that held Sandy to the horse.
Burdened by stuffed animals, Sandy and Mina walked through the parking lot as the sun dipped below the horizon. Loading everything into the car that she borrowed from Sandy’s parents, Mina was content. Sandy was already starting to fall asleep, even before Mina was able to buckle her into her seat. Mina sat behind the wheel and watched as the stars slowly blinked into existence across the sky.