The rain poured down as Jimmy’s bus pulled back onto the street after school. Hank headed for the end of the driveway with a wide umbrella, deflecting the slings and arrows of nature. He’d always had a knack for timing. Thirty seconds after he stopped at the end of the driveway, Jimmy’s bus arrived. Jimmy exploded out of the bus and babbled all the way to the front door.
While Hank started on supper, Jimmy banged around the house, chased the dog, screamed, yelled, and knocked over both lamps in the living room. Hank banished him upstairs to give himself (and the dog) some peace.
An hour later, with the casserole in the oven, Hank realized how quiet it had gotten.
He went upstairs. He looked in Jimmy’s room and Sarah’s room, but he couldn’t find Jimmy. Hank checked his own room and the bathroom, but Jimmy wasn’t there. He checked the laundry room and found the door to the attic ajar. Then he heard something: “Crime doesn’t pay, villain!”
Hank’s heart skipped a beat. He threw open the door and charged up the stairs. “Jimmy, what are you doing?” Hank roared.
Jimmy wore a black and red costume five sizes too big with a large white V in the center. He pointed a gun-shaped gadget at his mom’s old dress mannequin. He froze when he heard his grandfather’s voice. The hand holding the gadget trembled.
“Put that grappling gun down,” Hank yelled.
Before Jimmy could comply, his trembling finger brushed the grappling gun’s trigger. A tri-pointed grappling hook flew one way; Jimmy flew the other. The grappling hook embedded itself in the mannequin’s midsection. Jimmy crashed into a pile of old suitcases. A long, thin steel cable connected Jimmy to the mannequin.
Hank yanked Jimmy to his feet and grabbed the grappling gun from his hands. “Take that ridiculous costume off,” Hank said.
He examined the grappling gun and began rewinding the cable back into it.
Jimmy mumbled something Hank couldn’t hear.
“What?” Hank asked, his voice still sharp.
“It’s not ridiculous,” Jimmy whispered.
“What?” Hank asked again.
Jimmy balled his fists and shouted, “It’s not ridiculous!” He shook with anger and frustration. “The costume,” he said, “it’s not ridiculous.” Then he added in a whisper, “He’snot ridiculous.”
Hank looked at his grandson. His anger melted like a Popsicle on a barbecue. “I’m sorry,” he said. Hank had never yelled at Jimmy like that before. He’d scared himself as much as he’d scared Jimmy. Emotions and memories of a life he’d tried to forget surged through his mind.
Jimmy removed the costume, folded it, and put it back in the box where he’d found it. When Hank hadn’t moved or said anything in a long while, he ventured a question. “Where’d you get the costume?”
The words freed Hank from his prison of memories. His muscles relaxed and he breathed out a sigh.
“That ratty old thing?” Hank asked, his lips twisting into a smile. “It…it doesn’t matter.”
“But it’s great,” Jimmy said. “Did you like The Valiant when you were younger?”
“You could say that,” Hank said. His voice creaked.
Jimmy looked at the costume. “Did you use it for Halloween?”
“No, no, I didn’t.”
Jimmy rubbed the cloth of the cape between his fingers. “So why do you have it?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“Let it go, Jimmy. Let an old man have his secrets.”
“What secrets?” Jimmy asked. “You always tell me to turn it off. You hate that show.”
Hank looked at the ground.
Jimmy looked from the grappling gun to the costume in the box next to him. He fingered the hand-sewn seams. He looked at his grandfather, then back at the costume.
Joy flashed across Jimmy’s face as he turned back to his grandfather. “You?” he asked. “Youwere the Valiant?”
Hank took a deep breath. He looked over at his grandson for a long moment, holding Jimmy’s gaze with his. Finally he turned back to the floor.
“No,” he said, “it wasn’t me. It was someone else entirely.”
To Be Continued…