I said to Shawn, “This line sure is moving slow.”

“Security has been beefed up since 9-11,” he replied.  “I was reading about that… some people say, if it weren’t for the Zanetech low-energy scanners, we’d have random searches and carryon restrictions and all sorts of other things to slow us down at the airport.”

“I guess we’re lucky,” I said, but the fifteen minute wait in line still seemed too long to me.

“I’ve never flown cross country,” I said as we boarded.

“I have,” he said.  “To and from New York several times, and to Florida once as a kid.  Disneyworld, you know?  It was fun.  Wonder how much that has changed?”

We found our seats, and Shawn let me have the window side.  We were fortunate that the third seat on our side was empty, so we didn’t have to share with anyone else.  We talked the whole way to St. Louis, and it was great.

At the airport in St. Louis, we were met with a rental car; I had arranged it with my phone, which Shawn thought was pretty amazing.

“You really should let me pay for some of this,” he said.

“You don’t have any money, do you?”

“I do.  We have insurance for what happened to me.  After you,” he said, holding the door for me.

I got in, and he walked around and took the driver’s seat.  I said, “We have insurance?”

“We do,” he said flatly.  “Also, the costume stipend is still in effect.”

“Well, good,” I said.  “If I ever go back, I’ll need to replace mine.”

“Yeah, I guess so.  Not much left.”

“I do have a spare, but it’s good to have two.”

“I can see that,” he said.  “Are you really tired?  ‘Cause I could use me some barbecue, and I know a great place.”

“You’re the driver.  I promise, I can keep up with whatever you come up with.”

We had a great supper, then went to our hotel.  We had rented a suite, with separate bedrooms.  I’d never stayed in a hotel suite like it before, but the hotel claimed to be business-oriented, so I guess that was the deal.  The rooms were nice, the beds comfy, the Internet expensive… Sarah would have been complaining, but I just used my phone for everything so I didn’t care about that last part.

When we walked in, the lobby was full of men and women in clothes that screamed “business” to me.  We had to wait for a group of middle-aged people, two men and three women, before we could check in; when I got to the counter, I said to the girl on the other side, “Wow, what’s going on here?”

“Convention of accountants,” she said.  “They have most of the hotel.  I guess you two aren’t with them?”

“Not hardly,” I said, and I gave her my name and showed her my ID, and when Shawn had done that too she gave us our room keys and rushed us on so she could get to the people behind us.

We had to wait for an elevator, and when we got one we had to share it with three older men; they went on first, so I had to stand in front of them, and one of them had the nerve to grope my butt.  He probably thought, with three of them back there, I’d never know who did it… he didn’t count on my reflexes, honed by hours of training, not to mention actual fighting.  He hadn’t even gotten done squeezing before I had a grip on his wrist.  “Ow!”

I turned around, keeping a grip on his wrist and holding it up so the others could see.  “Be careful what you grab, perv, it might grab you back.”  I only had the strength of a normal woman, which was fortunate for him, but if you don’t have to worry about hurting yourself you can use all your strength, and I absolutely did that.  I felt something crack, not a bone, but something in his wrist.

The man who had grabbed me was begging me to let go, and the other two had moved as far back in the elevator as they could, but I wasn’t done yet.  I was about to twist his arm around behind his back when Shawn put his hand on mine and said, “Enough, Polly.  Let him go.”

After a moment, I did.  “Let this be a lesson to you.”

“I’ll never do it again, I promise!” he said, tears running down his face.  Just then the elevator opened, and Shawn took me by the arm and led me out.

He held on to my arm, gently but firmly, until we got to my door, and he hurried me inside.  “What was that all about?”

“He groped me.  He actually groped me.  I do not put up with that kind of shit.”

“Easy, Polly.  You made your point.  Let it go… take a breath and relax.”

I did.  “Sorry, Shawn.  I don’t know what came over me… haven’t been sleeping well.”  He put his arms around me and hugged me, and after a moment I hugged him back.  When he let go, I said, “I guess I’ve been through a lot.  In the last week or so, I’ve fought an invasion of alien monsters, visited other dimensions to free an alien wizard, fought another alien wizard, been chewed out by the Guardian’s council, been almost killed, and lost my powers.  I don’t think I’ve processed any of it yet.”

“I can understand that,” he said.  The suite had an actual meeting table in the main room, and he waved at it and said, “Sit down, and I’ll get us something to drink.”  He went to the fridge, looked inside and said, “You drink Coke?”

“Diet, if you’ve got it,” I said, and he got a couple out and slid one across the table to me.

He took a sip of his, then said, “Talk to me, Polly.  Tell me all about it.  I can be a really good listener.”

So I did.  We talked for hours, but I did most of it.  Somewhere along the way he called room service and had them send up some beer.  I told him how I had felt, lying there with death looming over me, how it felt to realize I wasn’t able to be Mystery Woman anymore, how it felt to have the Guardians turn their backs on me.  He reminded me that Thunder had left the door open for me to return, and I had to admit that was right… but the Council would have expelled me, I was sure, if Bob hadn’t stepped in, and I said that.

When I was totally talked out, I just sat there for a while, and he sat with me.  Finally I said, “Thanks, Shawn.  I needed that.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, smiling.  “You want the shower first?”

“No, you go first,” I said.  “No better than I sleep lately, it won’t matter if I wait for you.”

I was standing in the plaza of the gate in the Sunless City, alone… no Troll, no Micron, no blue men.  Just the plaza and the gate and me.

I heard a voice behind me… “Mystery Woman, we meet again!”  I spun around, and found myself face-to-face with Nemvex.  He raised his sword and came at me, slashing down and across at an angle.  I dropped, feeling the wind of his sword’s passage, and I swung my leg out in a sweeping kick.  I caught his leading leg behind the knee, and he fell hard, his sword clattering to the pavement.

For the briefest moment he was stunned, and in that moment I rolled, grabbing his sword and leaping to my feet.  I faced him… he was beginning to stand up, and though he was moving fast I was faster.

I drove the long black blade into his chest, so deep that I could feel his breath on my face.  I looked into his eyes, feeling a surge of triumph… but he wasn’t looking at me.  He was looking behind me.

I planted my foot on his chest and pulled the sword out, then spun around as quickly as I could.  Standing just out of reach was Plasma, his guns already trained on me.  I began to swing the sword at him, taking two steps forward, but I was too slow.  He fired, and heat and light and pain engulfed me.

I woke up, standing in the middle of my bed.  Shawn was yelling through the door… “Polly, are you okay?”

“Bad dream,” I yelled.  I straightened out my pajamas and opened the door.  “I’m okay, really.”

“Well, good,” he said, “I was worried.  It’s almost nine… do you want to order breakfast from room service or go down to the restaurant?”

“We’ll go down to eat,” I said.  “Just give me a minute to get dressed.”

“Sure, take your time.”

I closed the door, threw off my pajamas and went looking for my clothes.  I had thrown the sheets and blanket off on the floor, partially covering my luggage, so I picked them up and threw them on the bed.

The blanket was cut in two, and the sheet was too; they were cut at an angle, side-to-side, and the cut was very clean with no fraying at all.  I looked at it, not understanding, and then I decided I must have torn them in two.  After all, how could they have been cut?

“So what are we doing, exactly?” I asked Shawn, as we sat down to breakfast.

“Gina told me my wife remarried after I was declared dead.  Married a doctor, lives in a nice old house not far from Forest Park.  She quit her job when their daughter was born, but now she’s in grade school.  As far as I can guess, Dodie should be home alone right now.  I’m not ready to deal with her husband or their daughter, I just want to see her.”

“Shawn… don’t you think that’s a bit much?  Surprising her like that, and her all alone?”

He frowned deeply.  “Probably you’re right,” he said.  He was lost in thought for a long moment.  “I know what we should do, if you don’t mind doing me a big favor.”

Uh oh, I thought.  “What?”

“Call her for me.”

Uh oh, I thought again.  “And tell her what?”

“Tell her you have information about me, and you’d like to meet somewhere to discuss it with her.  Let her pick the place.  If she wants to bring a friend or her Mom or something, I’d be cool with that.  I’m just not ready for the husband, y’know?”

I sighed.  “Yeah, I know.  Do you have her number?”

“It’s in my phone,” he said, handing it to me.  I put the number into my own phone, and dialed it.

“Hello?” said a woman’s voice.

“Hello, is this Dodie?”

“Yes.  Who is this?”

Oh crap.  I thought fast.  “My name is Gloria, and I’m with the Guardians.”

“The Guardians?” she said.  “Is this about my… is this about Shawn?”

“It is, ma’am,” I said.  “I have information about him, but I’d like to meet you in person.”

“I don’t know,” she said.  “This could be a scam or something.”

“Ma’am, I’ll be happy to meet you somewhere public.  A restaurant, maybe?”

There was a long moment of silence, and I thought I’d lost her.  Then she said, “Sure, okay.  Can you meet me at Mi Ranchito?”

“Yes, I think so, if you’ll give me the address.”  She gave it to me, and I said, “Will eleven o’clock work for you?”

“Yes,” she said.  “I’ll be there.”

When I hung up, Shawn said, “Gloria?”

“You haven’t met her,” I said.  “We look a lot alike, and she’s with the Guardians too.  I really can’t say much more about her… I just didn’t want to give my real name.”

“I get it,” he said.

After breakfast, we went to Forest Park and he showed me around.  It’s a beautiful place with a lot of history, and we easily killed the time until I was to meet his wife just walking around and talking.

The short drive to the restaurant was still long enough that I was a bundle of nerves.  I was trying to think of what I’d say, how I’d answer her questions… it was tough.  Shawn had shown me a recent picture on her Facebook page, so at least I knew what she looked like.

We were a few minutes early.  I said, “You stay here, okay?  I’ll text you when you should come in.  Stay low, so she doesn’t see you when she goes in.”

“Will do,” he said, and I turned to get out.  He laid his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Polly, thank you.  Thank you so much for doing this.”

I put my hand on his for a moment and said, “You’re welcome.  Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” he said, and I got out of the car.

A friendly hostess met me just inside the restaurant.  “Just one today?” she said, with a slight but noticeable Hispanic accent.

I was about to answer her when I saw Dodie, already seated in a booth in a corner.  She was pretty; she had good skin and a nice figure, though I could still tell that she was in her forties.  “I’m with her,” I said, pointing, and the hostess led me over.  I gave her my drink order absently, and when she walked away I said, “Dodie, I’m Gloria.”

“Please, have a seat,” she said, and I did.  She was eying me with evident suspicion.  I looked around and saw that the nearest tables were still empty, which I had been hoping would be the case.  “You said you have information about my late husband Shawn.”

“I do,” I said.  “I won’t beat around the bush, Dodie.  He’s alive.”

She didn’t look as shocked as I thought, but she still looked suspicious.  “How?” was all she said.

“You know that he went with Avenger and Quantumax on a mission in Montana, don’t you?”

“Yes, they told me that.”

“Did they tell you what happened to him?”

“Why don’t you know that?” she said.

“What you were told isn’t on record, and I didn’t have a chance to ask Avenger about it.  I just need to know how much you know, okay?  Then I’ll tell you what I can.”

She sighed, sat back and crossed her arms.  “Avenger told me a supervillain killed him with some kind of death ray.”

“I see,” I said.  “That was what he thought happened.  Shawn was attacked by a villain with a… let’s call it a multipurpose death ray.  He was turned to stone by it, as he was trying to shrink.  You understand… he was using his power to dodge the villain, but the villain got him anyway.  It looked to Avenger and Quantumax like he had been disintegrated.”

“You said he’s alive,” she said, a little shrill.  “But now you say he was turned to stone?”

“He was.  It was kind of like being in suspended animation.  Recent events led to a group of Guardians returning to that villain’s lair, which is in what you could call an out-of-the-way place.  His body was found and restored, and to him no time had passed.”

“He’s still young,” she said, a look of mingled wonder and fear on her face.

“He still loves you,” I said.  “But he knows you’ve remarried, and he doesn’t hold it against you.  He’d like to meet you, if you’re willing.”

“I don’t… I…” she said, and then she covered her mouth with her hand, tears flowing.  A server came at that very moment with our drinks and some chips and salsa, and she turned away while I smiled and thanked him.  He asked if we were ready to order, and I asked for a few more minutes.  When he was gone, she turned back to me.  “Yes.  I need to see him.  Is he here?”

“He can be here in a minute or two,” I said.  “Do you want me to call him in?”

She dabbed the tears from her face with a napkin.  “Yes, please do.”

I sent him a quick text, and he came right in.  I saw him looking around and waved him over.

“Dodie?” he said, standing by the table.

“Shawn?  Is it really you?”

He looked around… no one appeared to be looking our way.  He shrank, quickly, to about five inches, held that size for maybe two seconds, then returned to normal.

“Oh, Shawn… oh God I’ve missed you,” she said, tears running again.  She stood up and put her arms around him.

“I wish I could say that too,” he said, “but to me, I just left you a few days ago.”  He looked into her eyes.  “But I think I’m going to miss you, aren’t I?”

“Shawn, please, let’s talk about things,” she said.  “I’m so sorry I didn’t wait for you.”

“Dodie, it’s okay,” he said.  “I understand.  You had to move on, and I don’t blame you.  I…”

“Guys,” I said, standing up, “I think my work here is done.  Shawn, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take the car and give you two some space.”

“Thanks,” he said.  I think he almost said “Polly” but he stopped himself.

He handed me the key to the car, and I said, “Call me when you need a pickup.”

I walked out and left them to figure things out for themselves.  It was such a sad situation… I really felt like crying, but I held it in.

I drove around for a while, but I didn’t want to shop and I didn’t have any friends to hang with, so eventually I went back to our hotel.  It was midafternoon, and I was bored, so I went down to the bar.

Of course, a bunch of older men hit on me.  Accountants from the convention were everywhere.  I just ignored them for the most part, chatting with the bartender; she was a surprisingly young-looking black woman who I would have hired on the spot (she had to be eighteen, she was handling booze).  Her name was Ch’nyce, which I had to ask how to pronounce.  She wasn’t in the least bit offended, and when I confided in her what I actually do for a living, she said, “Sounds like fun.”

“Come out to San Francisco and I’ll give you a shot,” I said.

“Um, no, sorry,” she said, grinning.  “Mom would have a cow.”

I smiled back.  “Probably.  Mine did.”  Her laugh was musical.