by Cynthia Finnegan
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Room 216, four days later:
For the second time in four months, Mary Batson sat by her brother’s bedside, waiting for him to wake up. Only, this time, the young man lying in bed really was Billy Batson, and not a demon prince in disguise. Mary looked up from her book, a novel by Mercedes Lackey, and watched her brother sleep. She smiled as she felt a rush of emotion toward him, and wondered if that was how he felt about her.
“Y’know, sometimes you amaze me, brother mine,” she said softly, brushing a lock of Billy’s raven-wing hair out of his face. “First, Black Adam nearly drowns you. Then Blaze kidnaps you, keeps you for four months, and almost kills you, and yet, somehow, you never lost hope that we’d rescue you.”
“Hi, Mary. I come bearing gifts. Is Billy awake?” Freddy Freeman asked under his breath as he came in, holding two cups from a new coffee shop.
“Hi, Freddy. He doesn’t seem to be awake yet, but he could be faking,” she replied, setting her book down. “Is this coffee?”
“Sort of. They called it a mocha latte at the cafe. Thought it’d be worth a try.”
Mary took one of the cups and sipped at the liquid. It was still hot; not scalding, but just right.
“Mmmm, this is good. When I was fighting Blaze, you said that you knew ‘Billy’ was an impostor. How?”
“Believe it or not, the answer’s right there in your hand,” he replied with a grin.
Mary looked askance. “How did coffee make you suspicious?”
Freddy shrugged. “Billy never drank his fresh from the pot. He lets it sit a few minutes, then sips it ’til it’s almost cold. If there’s any left by then, he knocks it back like a frat boy does tequila shots.”
Mary couldn’t help but laugh at that image. “And Satanus drank it boiling hot?” she gasped between giggles.
“He sure did. And straight, too. No cream, sugar, zip.”
Still laughing, she made a face and said, “Ugh. Now that is truly disgusting.”
As they laughed, they didn’t notice that Billy had woken up. He had been listening to every word and watching through partially opened eyes. He tried very hard not to laugh with them, or his chest would start hurting again. He was enjoying himself, and neither Mary nor Freddy were any the wiser.
“You know, Freddy,” Mary said, suddenly serious, “I owe you something.”
Freddy replied, raising an eyebrow in confusion. “OK, I’ll bite. What do you owe me?”
Mary stood up and walked over to him. She looked into his deep blue eyes, whispered, “This,” and then she kissed him on the lips.
They parted a few breathless moments later, when someone said, “Well, it’s… about… time!”
“Billy?!” Freddy asked, looking like someone had smacked him on the rump with a newspaper. “You’re awake?”
“For a few minutes now,” Billy replied, grinning.
Mary responded with, “You… big… faker!” and threw one of the extra pillows at his head. Billy successfully blocked it with his arm. “What d’you mean, ‘it’s about time’?”
“Aw, c’mon, Mary. You two’ve been moony-eyed over each other since we were twelve. It was getting gross.”
“Twelve? You mean when I had the measles?” Mary looked up at Freddy’s face; his expression was all the confirmation she needed.
“I did give you a peck on the cheek, remember?”
“Remember? How could I forget? I looked horrible, and smelled worse!”
After a brief bit of silence, Billy inquired, “So, you still retired as a hero, sis?”
“Nope. As of today, Mary Marvel is officially neither retired nor semi-retired. Speaking of getting back into action, Billy, when are you?”
“I don’t know. Blaze… did some pretty awful things to me down there. I guess I’m saying, what if she’s corrupted me without my knowing it? Can we risk letting another evil Marvel run loose?”
After a moment, he added, “Just… give me time. As for work, Mr. Morris is taking the take as much time as you need approach, so I still have a job.”
“That’s good,” Freddy commented with a chuckle. “The last thing I need is my best friend hawking papers, too!”
“By the way, thanks for the rescue, guys,” Billy stated as the public address system announced the end of visiting hours. “Seeya later.”
“You’re welcome,” Mary said, “now get some more rest, or I’ll have to get tough on you. ‘Bye.”
As the pair left, a warm, pleasant feeling rose in Mary, the feeling of having faced her worst fears and biggest doubts and beaten them.