Legend – Chapter 05
“Hello there, Virginia.”
She was already turning, smiling. Somehow I already knew he was there. She ran to the tall, flamboyantly-dressed figure and threw her arms around him, as high up as she could jump. “America!“
He chuckled and hugged her back. “And who else? How have you been, Virginia Dare?”
“That’s Virginia Dare Jefferson!” she corrected proudly.
He smiled broadly. “And that’s just exactly right, Miss Jefferson. But still Virginia Dare to me, if that’s all right with you?”
“So how have you been, Virginia?”
She was puzzled. “Don’t you know?”
“Even if I do – and I don’t know everything, Virginia, a long, long way from it – it wouldn’t be polite o’ me to show it off.”
“I’m . . .” she paused, and realized with wonder the truth of what she was about to say. “I’m . . . doing really well. I’m . . . happy,” she said in an awed voice, hardly able to realize she meant it.
She’d felt hope before, of course, and never so strongly as when America had brought her to Eleanor Pilgrim. And when Sunny and Malcolm Jefferson had walked into the office where Eleanor had brought her that morning, it was almost as though she’d known them since she was born.
But she’d known hope before, and thought she’d escaped a few times before – that things would get better, would turn around, and Daddy would change, or Mommy come back, or something, and it never had. So she’d been terrified that something would go wrong for the longest time, even though she’d seen early on that both of her new parents would fight to keep her; the sight of Gordon Dare backing down before the furious glare of Sunny and Malcolm had been a precious moment to hold onto. But still . . .
“I’m . . . happy,” she repeated.
“Then so am I, Virginia,” said America, and she could see a sparkle in those eyes that hinted at tears. “So am I. You’re doing well in school, I hope.”
“Almost-straight A’s. Well, two B’s.” She worried for a moment that he’d be disappointed.
“Don’t you be worried about a few B’s, Virginia Dare. You’ll be doin’ just fine.”
She nodded, then tugged nervously on the ponytail that hung behind her. “Ummm . . . so you said you wanted to talk to me?”
“First, Virginia, I need to know if anything – anything at all – has been bothering you.” The blue eyes studied her, intense and concerned.
She hesitated. This is . . . embarrassing. “I . . . kinda, I guess.”
“Even if it’s something small, something that sounds silly, I need to know.”
“Okay. Well . . . sometimes? Sometimes I have dreams.” She blushed. I’m ten years old. I shouldn’t be saying stuff that sounds so stupid! Of course I have dreams, everyone does! “But they’re . . . about you. About your adventures and things.”
He nodded slowly. “And what bothers you about that? I know you were . . . a fan of mine, so to speak, long before we ever formally met.”
Daddy says it’s perfectly normal to get this kind of confusion. “I’m . . . probably just confusing things, but . . . when I have the dreams, they seem awfully real, and . . . well, it’s before I read about them or see them on TV!”
“And your parents don’t believe you?”
Even though she felt a jab of . . . annoyance at the truth of that statement, the simple, matter-of-fact way that he called the Jeffersons “your parents” warmed her. “No. They believe I have dreams but they never believe it’s before I’ve heard about them – on the TV while I’m asleep or something. Dad said it’s common for people to . . . selectively remember, I think he said, and that they confuse past and future in their memories. That doesn’t make sense to me!”
“Well, Virginia . . . what he says is true, for most people. Memory’s a funny thing, and the mind does play tricks on most of us. But for you . . . You remember the last time I asked you to meet me here?” He patted the statue next to them.
“I couldn’t possibly forget, could I? I mean . . . Legend!” She remembered . . .
“I can’t be gone too long,” she said to America nervously. “M . . . mommy Sunny will worry if she doesn’t see me around soon. I mean, they let me go outside on my own, but . . .”
“I understand, I surely do,” America said, smiling down at her. “This will not take too long, Virginia, and I guarantee your mother will not know a thing about it.”
As always, America’s voice calmed her. She somehow knew he wouldn’t – maybe couldn’t – ever tell her a lie. She looked ahead, saw that they were nearing the intersection of River and Third streets. “We’re – but we can’t be! I haven’t walked anywhere near that far!” She pulled out her little phone and checked the time. “And we only left my house . . . ten minutes ago?”
The hero chuckled. “Depends on who you travel with and what you’re doing; you can lose track of time, and sometimes that means time loses track of you, so to speak. A little trick that helps me take people places without drawin’ too much attention, you see?”
Virginia wasn’t sure she did see, exactly, but if America was doing it, she was sure it was okay. “But your statue’s just up ahead, right? Won’t people notice?”
“They mostly haven’t noticed yet that the statue comes and goes,” America pointed out. “See, that’s one of my little tricks – I am America, but you can’t usually see ‘America’; that there is a concept, a set of beliefs, an image people hold in their minds and hearts, and you can’t really see that, or hold it, so unless I want ’em to, people don’t see me, don’t perceive me – or any trace of my presence, which the disappearance of that statue would surely be.”
He nodded towards the park, just coming into view. “But today, we’ve got something even better to show you.”
The park was shadowed with green, flickers of gold sunlight playing through the trees, and she could see the concrete turtle statue that was at the front of the tiny wooded area. Virginia looked ahead eagerly, knowing where the pedestal was.
But then there was a flicker of movement, one that became more obvious, something sparkling white-silver next to the statue – the statue!
For the statue of Uncle Sam stood there, proudly unmoving, gazing out at the passing traffic with polished metal eyes. And next to that statue, the tall figure with the tumbling black curls of hair over the glittering armor that the world had known for years . . .
Virginia realized she had stopped, her mouth open. America pulled gently on her arm. “Come on, Virginia; I’ve got an introduction to make.”
“To him? Oh my God, I’m not ready, I’m just, I . . . why me?”
“You’ll understand why not too long from now, and don’t you worry none about bein’ ready.”
As they approached – and, she could see, with people strangely passing by, not noticing that they were there – America called out, “Hello there, son. I see everything’s been taken care of.”
“Yes, it has.” Legend’s smile was a flash of brilliant lightning, and she could feel the power resonating in him, a power as protective and comforting as that of America. He dropped to one knee to be on her level. “And you are . . . ?”
“Legend, this is Virginia Dare Jefferson. Virginia, this is Legend.”
She swallowed her awe and put out her hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you, sir.”
His grip was just strong enough to make the handshake friendly, neither too tight nor too weak. “And likewise, Virginia. But please don’t call me ‘sir’, makes me think I’ve gotten old. ‘Sir’ is for people like my father.”
“You have a father?” As soon as she’d said it she felt like an idiot, but . . . really, it had never occurred to her that he had a family. Legend was . . . Legend, himself, unique and only that.
Legend gave a laughing snort, a very human sound that made her relax the tiniest bit. “Er . . . yes, Virginia, I do have a father. And a mom. And all that other boring normal stuff. I just don’t drag it all around with me when I’m in my cape.”
“I’m sorry, that was really stupid –”
“Not at all. I understand what you meant.” He stood and gestured to the statue. “America wanted you to see this. I gather you already know about who and what he is.”
Virginia nodded; she looked around to reassure herself that no one else was listening. “I was there. I mean, the first time. When the statue . . . became America.”
“So you must have realized that the biggest clue someone could get to learning that secret –”
“–was if they noticed the statue disappearing,” Virginia finished. “Sorry, s-, um, Legend. But no one seemed to.”
America nodded. “As you’ve seen, my powers . . . guide people away from seeing what they don’t need to see. Problem is, there’s always things that can see through that kind of trick. Far as I know, ain’t been any of them what’s noticed this yet, but it’s a sure bet one of ’em would, sooner or later, and most likely sooner.”
“So we did some consulting with our other friends. This,” Legend patted the shining aluminum arm of the statue, “is the result. It will replace America’s real, um, body whenever he goes off on patrol, and disappear whenever he’s back in place.”
“Oh, wow! So no one will be able to track him down!”
“Well, now, I wouldn’t say never,” America cautioned. “But it’ll be a darned sight harder for ’em to do now, that’s for certain.”
“And that was the reason America brought you here,” Legend said. “To make sure you knew that problem was taken care of. He knows you worry about him.”
Virginia felt a touch of heat on her cheeks. “Well, I know it’s silly, but . . . but I do.”
“Not silly at all,” both Heroes said in chorus, and then grinned at each other. “No, not at all,” America repeated. “You and me, we’ve been together from the start. I know how your dream is part of me. Stands to reason you’d be worried ’bout some villain finding out my center and my weakness. So it was definitely my job to put your mind easy on that question.”
She guessed that made sense. She touched the duplicate statue, then smiled up at the original. “Thanks.”
“You are always welcome, Virginia.”
The memory had replayed in that single instant. America was still smiling at her. “True enough; don’t expect you’ll ever forget that day, not even if you get to be old and gray like me.”
She laughed. “You’re not old, you just look old.”
He smiled. “More true than you think, Virgina. But I brought you here because it’s time. You’re old enough that you have to know,” he smiled, remembering, “know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth . . . about me. And you.”
He knelt down in front of her; she once more noticed that everyone else in the little park didn’t seem to see them at all. “You, Virginia Dare,” he said. “You were the one who made me, you see. When I said you protected yourself, I wasn’t joking, wasn’t trying to make you feel different or special. You’re one of them, is what I’m trying to say. One of the new Heroes, the Supers. Just a very different one.”
She realized she was staring at him with her mouth open. “M . . . me? No, you are! I’m just . . . just me! Virginia Dare Jefferson! No one special.”
He laughed – not unkindly. “Every single person is special, Virginia Dare Jefferson. And you – you are very, very special indeed. You remember the day we met, I know. And if you remember that day, I know that you were feeling a tension, somethin’ building in you like a gusher fit to blow, like that heavy feelin’ just before the storm breaks. And when it did break, that was when we met, wasn’t it?”
Yes. She nodded wordlessly, still unable to believe what he was saying. I . . . don’t have any special powers . . .
“That’s because you made me, doing something the others didn’t. Most of them, they had their own visions and it was focused on them – their dreams, their fears, their desires to be something greater, better . . . or,” a shadow passed over his face, “or worse, sometimes, than human beings usually are.
“But you . . . Virginia, you put your belief in America. You thought you were saved by something else – something you believed in, something bigger and brighter and just by-golly more than any one person could ever be. And you had a vision of just what that should be . . . you were standing right next to it, believing it could protect you, would protect you, even though that was impossible.”
“And so I heard you, and I awakened, and I did exactly what you believed I would do. Did exactly and just precisely what you made me to do.”
“That . . . I can’t believe it!” she burst out. “I . . . you’re . . . how could I have done that?”
He shook his head. “How? That’s way beyond either of us, right now, Virginia. But you did it. And a part of you knows. A part of you is always with me, and that’s how your dreams show you what I’m doing, where I am. Because . . . you made me from your very soul.”
She tried to argue again, but her words caught in her throat. It . . . is it true? “From my soul?”
“From your soul, your imagination, and your innocence, Virginia Dare – and because of that, I am better than I might have been. I’m what I should be, because of you. Because you really believe in the best of what I should be, without complexities or compromises that an adult, no matter how well-meaning, might have. You know what it means to be the tired, the poor, yearning to be free, you believe in exactly the most ideal and perfect interpretation of the words that founded my country, and you gave me the heart of the young, the wisdom of the old, and the strength to use them both.”
“But . . .” Virginia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I’m . . . I’m old enough, he said. For what? “Why are you telling me now?”
He smiled, a flash of white teeth and a twinkle in the eye, before his expression turned grave again. “That’s the Virginia Dare I know. Straight to the point, now. The reason is this, Virginia. Because of this, we’re connected. My power . . . comes from you. And you’re hooked into me. You needed to know the truth, because some day, that’s going to matter. And you need to know what you need to hide, need to forget, need to pretend.”
Oh. “I can’t insist on how true my dreams are. Or how I know other things, guess them, about you.”
“Not if we both want you safe. Honestly, I do not know how much you can protect yourself, beyond that of any ten-year-old girl. Could be that if you were in terrible danger, I’d know and come in time to save you. Or not. Could be that you, yourself, would find you have more of America in you than you know . . . or not. And what would happen to me, if something happened to you . . . ? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it’d be good. Sure don’t want to find out.”
“Neither do I!” she said emphatically. I’m not sure . . . part of me’s afraid to believe him, but I know he wouldn’t ever ever lie. Especially not to me. “I’ll remember. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll stop talking about my dreams that way.” She looked at him as he was about to speak. “That way, I said! I’ll still talk about them or Mom and Dad would wonder why I stopped.”
He stood and bowed again. “You’ve got it down perfectly then, Virginia. It’ll be our secret. Plus one other.”
She realized she didn’t need to ask. “Legend,” she said slowly. “He . . . he knew, even back on that day. You told him, just in case. And . . . and he told you. Who he is.”
“Just exactly right. So if something ever happens . . . something that you can’t even ask your mom and dad to handle . . . you call him. Call Legend, because he’ll know who you are, and why you need him.”
As he stood and began to walk away, she ran next to him. “Wait! How can I call him when I don’t know –”
“But you will know, Virginia Dare,” he said, and he was fading away with a smile, an all-American Cheshire Cat. “You’ll know it when you need it . . . in your heart.”
And somehow she knew . . . he was right.