A Touch of Mischief

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New York, Thursday July 26th, 2007

Melissa Chambers awoke to sunlight streaming into her eyes through the window. She groaned at that, pulling the covers up to protect her eyes from the bright morning light, but several seconds later, she remembered what day it was. With an excited squeal, she bolted straight up in bed, already wide awake. Then, with a broad grin, she leapt out of her bed, singing, “Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me…”

For several long seconds, Melissa rushed around her messy bedroom, frantically scrambling for clothes so she could get dressed, until she remembered that she was already dressed, at least enough for early morning at home. She was still wearing her ‘pajamas’, though the piece of clothing would have been more accurately described as a massively oversized T shirt, with a faded picture of Lola Bunny on the front, and which hung low enough that it almost could have been a dress.

“It’s my birthday,” the slender girl announced to the world. As of today, she was fourteen years old, and she felt particularly mature and grown up. Then with a squeal of excitement, she suddenly vanished, reappearing on the other side of the room in an instant, where she grabbed her bunny slippers. “Now I’m ready…”

A minute later, Melissa rushed to the kitchen, eager to get her bowl of Coco Puffs. But to her surprise, the kitchen wasn’t empty like she’d expected. Her dad stood at the stove, sipping coffee while he cooked something that smelled delicious.

“Good morning, Pumpkin,” he greeted her with a smile. “And happy birthday.”

For a moment, Melissa just stood there, feeling a little confused by her dad’s presence. She gave him a suspicious look as she asked, “Why aren’t you at work?”

“I’m going in a little late today,” he responded with a gentle smile. “I thought it would be a good idea to make breakfast for the birthday girl.”

“Cool,” Melissa responded with a broad grin of her own. Then she saw what her dad was cooking and she let out a squeal of glee. “Bacon…” As she rushed over and snatched up a piece of cooked bacon, only to notice her dad was giving her an odd look. “What?”

“For a moment, you just reminded me of someone else,” he explained with a chuckle and an amused shake of his head.

Melissa gave him a curious look before turning her attention to her breakfast. But while she ate, she kept glancing at her dad, happy that he was staying home long enough to make breakfast for her, though she was still a little surprised. After all, for almost as long as she could remember, her dad had been a complete workaholic, who was so focused on his job as an art buyer…and his second job as a superhero named Superhawk…that he barely seemed to even notice she existed.

Melissa vaguely remembered a time when her dad had been loving and attentive, but that had been a long time ago. After her mom died, her dad had changed, becoming distant and focused on his work. In a way, it had been like she’d lost her dad at the same time.

For years, about the only time her dad ever seemed to smile or laugh, was after he fought with his supervillain arch-enemy…the Imp. Sure, he’d usually come home angry and frustrated, but once he calmed down, he’d start laughing and would even tell Melissa about some of the things that the Imp had said and done. Melissa had always loved to hear his stories about the Imp, because not only was she so clever and funny, but she even managed to bring Melissa’s dad back to her, at least for a little while.

But then, about six months ago, Melissa had manifested as a mutant, just like her dad and Aunt Brandy, and everything had changed. Because of her new powers, she’d been able to actually meet the Imp, who was just as funny, clever, and awesome in person as Melissa had always known she would be. Ironically, it was the Imp, her dad’s arch-enemy, who convinced her that she should give her father another chance. And to Melissa’s surprise, it had actually worked. Once she’d told her dad that she was a mutant too, he’d done everything he could to help her.

However, things had quickly changed again. Last month, Melissa had been kidnapped, first by a crazy superhero named Jack Rabbit, then by a villain called Paradigm. To Melissa’s amazement, Imp and her dad had actually teamed up to rescue her. Ever since then, her dad had really opened up. He laughed. He smiled. He took her out and did things with her. And he even went to work late, just so he could spend more time with her.

Melissa watched her dad with a grin, thinking that this new and improved dad was great…even if he had grounded her until she turned eighteen. She was just a little worried that it was too good to last, that sooner or later, her grumpy dad would come back.

While they ate breakfast, her dad commented, “I bet you’re looking forward to your birthday party tonight…”

“I guess,” Melissa responded without much enthusiasm.

The truth was, she didn’t think it could possibly be a very good party when none of her friends would be there. Melissa would have loved it if her best friend Emily came, but her dad had gotten a new job in Sacramento, so her whole family had moved to the other side of the country. Because of that, she and Emily texted each other and sometimes talked on the phone, but that just wasn’t the same.

“I know Emily won’t be there,” her dad mused, apparently guessing her thoughts. “But what about Sarah?”

“Sarah doesn’t like me anymore,” Melissa grumbled with a pout.

Sarah used to be a good friend, but over the last year, she’d been visited by the puberty faerie, who had been very generous. Because of that, Sarah had become really popular in school, especially with the boys, and now thought she was too good to hang out with any of her old friends. Of course, Melissa was a little jealous of Sarah, but not too much. After all, Sarah might have big boobs now, at least compared to most girls their age, but she didn’t have cool superpowers like Melissa did.

A moment later, Melissa’s thoughts turned to Jessie, who also used to be one of her friends, though she’d never been as close as Emily or Sarah had been. Jessie didn’t like mutants, and over the last couple years, she’d been saying a lot of bad things about them. The fact that Melissa’s dad and aunt were both mutants had always made her a bit uncomfortable when Jessie said stuff like that, and ever since Melissa had manifested as a mutant herself, she’d been avoiding Jessie completely.

“What about that girl who always wears the pig tails?” Melissa’s dad asked awkwardly, obviously not even remembering her name.

Melissa rolled her eyes. “Katie moved away, like, forever ago…”

“Oh,” her dad responded, giving her an apologetic look. “Well, I’ll be there…and so will Brandy.”

Melissa nodded at that, feeling a bit disappointed that none of her friends would be there. However, a moment later, that was forgotten and she excitedly asked, “Am I getting any cool presents?”

Her dad laughed at that. “I got you some new socks.” Then as if dispensing great wisdom, he announced, “A girl can never have too many socks.”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “I bet Aunt Brandy is gonna get me something cool. She always gives cool presents.”

“I think she’s giving you a scarf,” her dad teased. Melissa just stuck her tongue out at him, then burst into giggles. She definitely liked this version of her dad a lot more than the grumpy workaholic one.

After they finished eating, her dad began to move the dirty dishes to the sink. He gave her a curious look, then asked, “So, birthday girl, what do you have planned for your big day?”

Melissa rolled her eyes again before grumbling, “I’m just gonna watch TV…” She let out a sigh, emotionally deflating at the reminder that she was still grounded, and would be for the next four years. That might as well have been for the rest of her life. She still couldn’t believe the Imp had snitched on her about the art gallery. And it wasn’t like she’d actually taken anything.

For a moment, her dad stared at her silently, then he let out a loud sigh. “Fine. Just stop giving me that puppy dog look. You’re not grounded anymore…”

“Really?” Melissa gasped. “You really really mean it?”

“But no more going out looking for supervillains,” her warned her in his stern voice. “No more painting graffiti. And don’t even think about committing another robbery…even a fake one.” He gave her a steady look. “Now, promise me that you’ll behave and stay out of trouble.”

“I promise,” Melissa quickly exclaimed, nearly bouncing with excitement. She flashed her dad a grin, hoping that he didn’t notice that her fingers had been crossed.

Her dad let out a sigh, looking as though he wasn’t completely convinced. “Please, for once, try not to live up to your codename…”

“I won’t,” she assured him with a manic grin, already thinking about how much fun she could have now that she was no longer grounded. Of course, being grounded hadn’t stopped her from sneaking out at night, but there was no need for her dad to know that.

“Well, I have to go to work now, Pumpkin,” her dad said, giving her a gentle hug. “I wish I could spend the whole day with you, but I have clients I need to tame…” With that, he held up an imaginary chair and whip and began to take the make believe lion. Melissa giggled. She definitely preferred this version of her dad.

Once her dad left the condo, Melissa allowed herself to think about her birthday party again, and the one guest her dad would never allow her to invite. The Imp. In spite of being a supervillain, the Imp was also Melissa’s friend and personal hero, as well as the guest she most wanted at her party. However, even if she could invite the Imp, Melissa had no way to tell her.

Melissa let out a sigh of frustration over the fact that that she hadn’t even seen the Imp in over a month, not since she’d had helped save Melissa from Jack Rabbit and Paradigm. She’d already snuck out at night, several times, in order to go to the place where she and the Imp used to meet up, but to Melissa’s disappointment, Imp hadn’t left any messages for her, nor had she responded to the ones Melissa left. Even her dad had been out trying to find the Imp, without any luck. It was like Imp had completely disappeared.

For a minute, Melissa just brooded over the fact that the Imp seemed to be avoiding her. But then she began to smirk, remembering that she did have one clue about where the Imp went, and one that her dad didn’t seem to know about.

“I know something you don’t know,” Melissa called out in a sing-song voice.

A month ago, her dad had taken her to an art gallery, the very same one where she’d played the prank that resulted in her being grounded, to see a bunch of new paintings. While there, she got to meet Candice Kade, who was her very favorite artist. Candice made some really great paintings, but the coolest thing about them was that she always hid things in the pictures. Melissa loved looking at Candice’s paintings and trying to find the hidden surprise.

While Melissa had been at the art gallery, she’d been surprised to discover that the new paintings Candice was showing for the very first time, were the same ones she’d seen in the Imp’s home. Melissa had been completely shocked by the realization that Candice Kade, her very favorite artist in the entire world, was really the Imp.

Of course, Candice and Imp looked completely different from each other, since Imp had horns and a tail while Candice didn’t, but Melissa knew that they were really the same person. She was certain of it. She had even gone back to the art gallery several times since then, trying to talk to Candice, to prove that she really was the Imp…but the artist hadn’t been there.

Melissa went to the living room and stopped to stare at a painting which hung on the wall, a painting by Candice Kade. After a moment, Melissa began to giggle, knowing that there was no way her dad would ever let her invite the Imp to the party, but she doubted that he’d have any problems if Candice Kade showed up. That was why Melissa had already sent Candice an invitation. Or more accurately, she’d taken an invitation to the art gallery, and the gallery manager had promised to give it to Candice the next time he saw her. Unfortunately, as with the messages she’d left the Imp, there hadn’t been any response.

“Why are you avoiding me?” Melissa demanded of the painting. “Is it because my dad is Superhawk?” Then, even though she knew it was silly, she pouted, “You promised to teach me how to get out of handcuffs…”

After letting out a long sigh, Melissa turned away from the painting and went to find something else to do. It was her birthday, and now that she was no longer grounded, she had a lot of options. With that in mind, she began to grin.

Unfortunately, as eager as she was to go out so she could find something fun and interesting to do, Melissa knew that she had a few things she needed to take care of first…such as taking a shower and getting dressed. Once she’d finished taking care of those necessities, she began preparing for whatever adventures the day would bring.

“Perfect,” Melissa exclaimed as grabbed the red hoodie that had been draped over her chair, then teleported to the other side of her bedroom, where she immediately began digging through the bottom drawer of her dresser. A moment later, she held up her prize with a triumphant grin on her face. “I can’t go without my bag of tricks.”

Her bag of tricks was really just a black fanny pack, which she used to carry some useful items, such as her MID and the lock pick set that Imp had given her. It wasn’t as cool as Imp’s belt, which had a bunch of pouches on it, but it worked.

While Melissa snapped her bag of tricks in place, she looked at the top of her dresser, where a pair of plastic devil horns sat. She grinned at the sight of them, remembering that she used to sneak out while wearing those horns and a costume tail, just so she could be more like the Imp, though she hadn’t done that in a couple months. Imp had actually autographed those horns for her, so there was no way she was going to risk losing them. And of course, it would just look silly for her to wear the tail without the horns.

Once Melissa was sure she was ready, she struck a dramatic pose and announced, “It’s time for some Mischief.”

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Melissa frowned as she walked down the sidewalk, feeling bored and vaguely disappointed. It was her birthday and she was no longer grounded, but she didn’t have any friends to hang around with, and she had yet to come up with something fun to do.

“Bored, bored bored,” Melissa grumbled to herself, desperately wishing that she knew how to find the Imp Lair. She’d been to Imp’s home once, but she had absolutely no idea where it was or how to get back.

Just then, a loud voice called out, “Hey, Blondie…”

Melissa groaned as she turned to look at the speaker, already knowing who he was. A short distance away, she saw three boys, who’d been neighborhood punks and bullies for as long as she could remember.

Allen, Bryce, and Kenny were about the same age as her, though all three boys were bigger. At the moment, each was leaning on their bicycles, which meant that they’d be able to chase her down even more quickly than they could when they had their skateboards.

In spite of the fact that she was outnumbered, with three boys who were all bigger and stronger than her, Melissa didn’t feel the least bit threatened. Instead, she grinned, thinking that this solved her boredom and might even be fun.

“If it isn’t Ed, Edd, and Eddy,” Melissa exclaimed cheerfully, thinking of the numbskull boys from the cartoon.

Allen, the one who always seemed to act as the spokesman and instigator for the group, demanded, “Shut up Blondie…” He set his bicycle down, smirking as he came closer. “This is our sidewalk. You need to pay a toll…”

For a brief moment, Melissa stood where she was, staring at the boys with a grin. “Make me,” she finally exclaimed, much to their obvious surprise, right before she turned and ran.

“Get her,” Bryce yelled out, hopping onto his bicycle and chasing after her, though the other two boys came after her on foot.

Melissa glanced back, laughing in delight before calling out, “Neener neener neener,” and sticking her tongue out.

Even without the bicycles, the three boys were all faster than she was, though she knew that none of them would be able to touch her unless she let them. So with a grin, she ran around a corner, then when no one was watching, she used her mutant power to turn invisible.

As soon as the boys turned the corner, Allen demanded, “Where is she?”

It was all Melissa could do not to giggle as the boys ran off in the direction she had been heading. Once they were far enough away, she became visible again and called out, “Hey, stupid…” When the three boys all stopped and turned to look back at her in surprise, she cheerfully called out, “Wow. All of you answer to that.”

“Get her,” Allen ordered, but Melissa was already running again.

Melissa giggled in delight, blowing them a raspberry, then ducking into an alley and repeating her trick of turning invisible. When the boys rushed into the alley mere seconds later, they couldn’t see a sign of her, much to her amusement.

“Where did she go?” Kenny demanded, which nearly made Melissa giggle. She bit back the impulse though, knowing that not only would the sound give her away, but that the distraction would probably make her become visible again. As it was, she couldn’t hold it much longer anyway.

“We know you’re here, Blondie,” Allen called out angrily.

The boys quickly looked through the Alley, though while they were doing that, Melissa hurried back out the way she’d come, getting out sight just in time as she couldn’t remain invisible any longer. She looked back at the boys, who were still searching for her in the alley, then giggled as she left them behind.

“What a bunch of maroons,” Melissa exclaimed, feeling quite pleased with herself.

Melissa hadn’t gone much further when she saw pair of men who were clearly trying to break into a car. One of them stood at the side, looking around nervously, probably as a lookout. However, the other man was the one who drew Melissa’s attention. Not only was he wearing a really ugly hat, but he had a short crow bar in his hand. And then, as Melissa watched, he smashed the metal bar into the passenger side window to shatter it.

“Hey,” Melissa blurted out in surprise.

Even as the word left Melissa’s mouth, she wondered why she was protesting. After all, she was a huge fan of the Imp, who was a professional thief and supervillain. However, Melissa couldn’t imagine Imp breaking into someone’s car like that. She only stole from rich people and museums, who could afford it, not from cars on the street. Besides, Imp had a LOT more style than that.

“Fuck off, kid,” one of the men snarled, glaring at her as of expecting her to run away in fear.

For a brief moment, Melissa just stood there, not sure of what she should do. She could call the police…if she hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave the house that she’d left her cell phone behind. Of course, she realized that she didn’t actually have to do anything at all. She could just turn around and walk away, though she suddenly had an image of her dad giving her a look of disappointment if she did that.

“Hey jerkface,” Melissa called back, “I just called the cops on ya…”

“Hurry it up, Mikey,” the lookout exclaimed, giving Melissa a very dark look that made her take a step back. Then he pulled a knife out of his pocket. “This little bitch wants to get in our business.”

Melissa stared at the thief, who was trying to look scary and intimidating, and a moment later, she burst out laughing. She’d met supervillains and a very scary superhero, so she found these guys almost funny in comparison. Mikey and the man with the knife both looked surprised by her reaction, then offended, as though taking it personally.

“Let’s teach this brat not to fuck with us,” Mikey exclaimed, slapping his crow bar into his hand, which only made her giggle.

“Get her,” the one with the knife ordered.

However, Melissa was already turning to run, cheerfully calling back, “You’ve gotta catch me first…”

Melissa grinned as she ran, thinking that this was no different than when Alley, Bryce, and Kenny were chasing after her, except that these guys were older and out of shape. Of course, they did have weapons, but those only mattered if they could catch her, and she wasn’t about to let them to that.

“Get back here,” Mikey demanded, which only made Melissa laugh.

“Yeah, right,” she called back in response, laughing as she did so. “Like I’m really gonna stop and let you hurt me, just because you told me to.”

With that, Melissa ran into the nearest alley, and was about to turn invisible so she could lose those men the same she had the neighborhood bullies, when she saw something that gave her a better idea. With a giggle, she concentrated and willed herself to teleport, hoping that she could get this right. If she wasn’t careful, she sometimes teleported to the wrong spot, and she couldn’t afford to do that this time. An instant later, Melissa suddenly vanished, only to reappear on top of the fire escape.

The two men came into the alley before pausing to look around. “Where is that brat?”

“Up here,” Melissa called down to them, waving her arms and sticking out her tongue.

“How the fuck did she get up there?” Mikey demanded, looking to where the fire escape ladder was pulled up out of his reach.

“I flew,” Melissa taunted with a giggle. “Just think happy thoughts.”

After fifteen seconds of profanity, Mikey lifted his friend up enough to reach the fire escape ladder. As soon as they had a grip on it, Melissa decided it was time to go and began racing up the fire escape. She reached the top, and with only a little more climbing, she was able to scramble up over the edge and onto the roof.

“Don’t let that little snot get away,” Mikey commanded.

“Too late,” Melissa responded, looking over the edge and blowing the men a raspberry. With that, she turned and ran across the roof, towards the stairs that would lead down into the building.

Suddenly, the door covering the stairwell was flung open and a woman’s voice called out, “It was a lot of fun partying with you guys, but I’ve gotta get going. Maybe we can do it again sometime…”

A moment later, a woman stepped out onto the roof, and Melissa nearly ran into her. The girl barely came to a stop in time, and found herself facing a black haired woman in a legless, long sleeved blue costume, with a white piece on her chest.

“Hey,” the woman exclaimed in a noticeable Long Island accent. “Watch where you’re going. I don’t wanna run over ya or anything…”

Melissa stared at the costumed woman in surprise, then excitedly blurted out, “You’re Blue Diamond…”

Blue Diamond responded with a friendly smile. “It’s always nice to meet a fan…”

“You’re my second favorite supervillain,” Melissa exclaimed, backing up just a little bit. Then, nearly bouncing with excitement, she pleaded, “Can I get your autograph?”

Blue Diamond gave her a look of amusement. “Wait, I’m only your second favorite? I’ll have you know, that I am the world’s most lovable supervillain, so who could possibly top that?”

“Imp is the best,” Melissa proudly announced.

“Impy?” Blue Diamond responded in surprise.

Bouncing with excitement, Melissa continued in a rush, “She’s smart, and funny, and really really nice. She taught me how to pick locks, and showed me around the Imp Lair, and we were gonna put a bunch of really cool traps in it, like a pool full of sharks…”

“Hold on a moment,” Blue Diamond said, giving Melissa a surprised look. “You actually know Impy?”

“She’s the greatest,” Melissa agreed with a grin, though she quickly assured the villain, “But I like you too. You’re the second coolest villain I know…”

“And just how many villains do you know?” Blue Diamond asked curiously.

“Imp,” Melissa immediately answered. “And I’ve met you, obviously… And I met Paradigm, who kidnapped me, but other than that she was really nice.” Then she paused and scowled. “And I met Jack Rabbit. I mean, I know he’s technically a hero…” She made quotation marks in the air as she said the word ‘hero’, “But he kidnapped me too and made me be his sidekick, so I think he’s more of a villain…. He’s a real jerk. A Jerk Rabbit.”

Blue Diamond blinked at that. “Wait a moment, Kiddo. You were Jack Rabbit’s sidekick?”

“He mind controlled me,” Melissa responded defensively. Then Melissa brightened up again. “But Imp rescued me from him, then cut off his foot. It was really gross…but kind of funny…”

Suddenly, Melissa stopped speaking as she caught sight of something from the corner of her eye. She snapped around and saw a man in a blue and white costume, flying past in the distance. She let out a loud, “EEEP,” as she ducked for cover, pulling her hood over her head and turning invisible at the same time.

Blue Diamond took a step back and looked around in surprise. “Kid? Are you still here?”

Melissa turned visible again, then stared at the ground a little awkwardly as she said, “My name is Mischief.”

Melissa stood back up and carefully watched the hero who was now flying in the opposite direction. It was Superhawk…her dad. She’d thought he was only going to work at his art buying job today, not his superhero one. But then again, he was a superhero, so something probably came up. After he was gone, she let out a sigh of relief, thankful that he hadn’t seen her, especially not in the presence of another supervillain. Now that she’d finally gotten off from being grounded, the last thing she needed was to get grounded all over again.

“That was Superhawk,” Blue Diamond commented. “You know, up close, he has a really nice tush.” Then she gave Melissa a look of curious amusement and asked, “Hey Kiddo, what did you do that you’re hiding from heroes?”

Melissa deflated a little under the scrutiny, before self-consciously admitting, “I kinda robbed an art gallery once…”

“An art gallery?” Blue Diamond asked in surprise. “Wow Kiddo, aren’t you a little young for the business?” Then she paused, staring at Melissa thoughtfully for a moment before continuing, “I heard that Imp took on an apprentice. That’s you, isn’t it?”

Melissa grinned at that, liking the idea of being called Imp’s apprentice, even if it wasn’t really true. “She taught me some stuff,” Melissa agreed cheerfully, but deflated a little again as she remembered how long it had been since the last time she’d seen Imp. “Then she kinda disappeared…” She gave Blue Diamond her best puppy dog eyes and pleaded, “Do you know where she is?”

“Sorry, Kiddo,” Blue Diamond told her apologetically. “But I ain’t seen Impy in over a month. She’s probably either laying low somewhere, or off on a job.”

“Oh,” Melissa responded, deflating again in disappointment.

“It was really nice meeting you, Kiddo,” Blue Diamond said with a friendly smile, putting a gentle hand on Melissa’s shoulder as though to comfort her. Shen she held up a duffel bag which had been slung over her shoulder, which Melissa hadn’t previously noticed. “Unfortunately, I just collected some party favors, so I really have to get going.”

“It was nice meeting you too,” Melissa told the villain, deciding that she was glad Blue Diamond was her second favorite villain. She was really nice.

But then, Blue Diamond paused, smiling wryly as she announced, “It looks like we have some unexpected party guests…”

“What?” Melissa started to ask, until she noticed two figures flying directly towards them. She let out an, “EEEP,” as she jumped back in surprise.

The first man wore a suit of black armor with gold trim, which looked almost like it had come straight out of the 80’s. Melissa immediately recognized the armor. This was Dynamo, one of the most famous superheroes in New York. Her friend Emily used to have a big poster of Dynamo on her bedroom wall, though Melissa’s aunt had once told her that he was a chauvinistic jerk.

After staring at Dynamo for a moment, Melissa finally turned her attention to his companion, who she didn’t recognize. His costume was mostly red, with a white U on his chest and forehead, and he had a long white cape. However, the entire thing looked like it had been assembled from leftover pieces of different superhero costumes, which also went for his weapons. In one hand, he held a square headed hammer, while on his other arm he had a big round shield. Other than the matching color scheme, none of it looked like it was supposed to go together.

Melissa quickly looked to Blue Diamond, who didn’t look the least bit worried about having two superheroes appearing. Instead, she gave them a warm, welcoming smile, and cheerfully exclaimed, “Gentlemen, thank you for accepting my invitation to the party, though I’m afraid that you’ve arrived a little late.”

“Blue Diamond,” Dynamo exclaimed, stopping and hovering in the air, seemingly thrown off by the warm greeting.

“I’ll deal with her henchman,” the one the red and white costume announced.

“Henchman?” Melissa blurted out, her eyes going wide in surprise. “Me?”

“Careful, Ultramax,” Dynamo warned his younger companion. “We don’t know what abilities she may have…”

Melissa let out a loud, “EEEP,” as she turned and ran, crying out, “My dad is gonna kill me…”

Ultramax flew straight at Melissa and grabbed at her, though she saw him coming in time to teleport to the roof of the next building. She looked back and saw him looking around in surprise, though it only took him a couple seconds to see where she’d gone, then to come at her again.

Though Melissa was afraid of having a real superhero coming after her, it certainly wasn’t the first time. After a moment, she began to grin, realizing that this could be a lot of fun. She stuck her tongue out and called out, “Neener neener neener…”

“Stop where you are,” Ultramax ordered. “You’re under arrest.”

Melissa looked up with an expression of mock innocence. “Really. I don’t see any rest above me.” Then as Ultramax flew in to grab her, she turned intangible, letting him go right through her and smack into the roof. She burst into giggles as he hit face first, then prodded him with her foot, exclaiming, “Tag. You’re it.” A moment later, she turned and ran again.

“Get back here,” Ultramax yelled at her, though Melissa just laughed.

“Does that ever work?” Melissa asked him curiously, coming to a stop right at the edge of the roof. She looked down at the ground.

“There’s nowhere to go,” Ultramax stated rather smugly.

Melissa rolled her eyes at that. “You know, Jerk Rabbit was way better at this.” She looked over the edge of the building, staring at the ground below for a moment before grinning. “If I didn’t know some good heroes, I’d think all of you were dumb.”

With that, Melissa took a deep breath and teleported, reappearing a moment later on the ground. She let out a sigh of relief, then looked up and saw Ultramax peering over the edge of the building, straight down at her. Melissa giggled at the look on his face, or at least what she imagined the look on his face was since she couldn’t see much of it through the mask. Without a word, Melissa flipped off the hero before running away.

For a moment, Melissa thought that she’d lost the hero, until she suddenly remembered that he could fly. She looked back, just in time to see him coming straight at her again.

“My dad will kill me,” Melissa groaned to herself, feeling a surge of fear at the thought. If her dad found out about this, she’d be grounded for life. “I guess I’d better not get caught…”

Ultramax approached Melissa a little more cautiously than he had on the roof, which she found to be funny. She stuck her tongue out at the hero before teleporting a short distance away, where she immediately began to run. The hero groaned in frustration but gave chase, which only made Melissa laugh as she teleported away from him again, thinking that this was almost like a game. In spite of Ultramax being a superhero, this wasn’t really any different than when she’d run way from her neighborhood bullies or those two thugs.

“Betcha can’t catch me,” Melissa taunted him, though the truth was, she was getting tired. Not only had she been doing a lot of running, but she’d also been using her powers a lot more than normal. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up, though she didn’t want Ultramax to realize that she was so close to her limits. “Ooops. Too slow again.”

Though Melissa was still having fun, she decided that it was about time to stop teasing Ultramax and give him the slip. But before she could do this, she saw something that made her grin mischieviously. An instant later, she changed course and ran straight at the nearby bakery, directly at their display window, where she turned intangible just a moment before she reached it.

Seconds later, Melissa suddenly appeared right in front of the low flying hero, smashing a banana cream pie into his face as she cheerfully exclaimed, “Gotcha…”

Ultramax crashed into the side of a parked car, making Melissa wince at how painful it looked. However, she didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the fact that he was still blinded and distracted, in order to turn invisible and run. She couldn’t stay invisible for long, but she didn’t need to.

Melissa was just about to turn the corner and escape, when she saw two familiar figures in the middle of breaking into a car. She stared at Mikey and his knife wielding buddy, then glanced back towards Ultramax.

“Wow, the hits just keep coming,” she muttered. Turning visible again, Melissa began jumping up and down, waving towards Ultramax in order to get his attention. “Hey, over here…”

“You little brat,” Ultramax exclaimed, right before charging at her again.

“Neener neener neener,” Melissa called out, blowing the hero a raspberry before she ran directly towards the thugs.

Mikey noticed her coming and blurted out, “The kid is back…”

“Stop,” Ultramax called out, only to stop and stare at the two criminals who were in the middle of breaking into the car.

“Bye bye,” Melissa exclaimed, waving goodbye to Ultramax before turning invisible again and running.

The hero stood there for a moment, realizing that he could either continue looking for Melissa, who’d completely vanished, or deal with the criminals right in front of him. After several seconds, he turned his attention to the fleeing criminals.

Melissa crouched down behind a corner, watching the scene with her hands over her mouth so that her giggling didn’t give her away. Once Ultramax started chasing after the thugs and was far enough away, she finally gave in and burst out laughing.

“That was fun,” Melissa announced, finally remembering Blue Diamond, whom she’d left behind. She glanced back in the direction she’d come from and hoped the villain got away. Blue Diamond had been nice.

Since she was tired from all the running, Melissa started walking back home, thinking about what presents she might get at her party. After all, Aunt Brandy always got her something cool, and she had a feeling that her dad was going to give her something neat too.

Just when Melissa was half a block from the building where she lived, she saw three bicycles chained up to a bike rack. She recognized the bicycles, but when she glanced around, she saw no sign of Allen, Bryce or Kenny.

“Hey,” Melissa called out, “Ed, Edd, and Eddy?” However, the three boys didn’t appear, so she turned her attention to their bicycles while grinning mischieviously.

Melissa reached into her bag of tricks and pulled out the lock picks that Imp had given her, then she went to work unlocking the bicycle chains. Thanks to the lessons that Imp had given her along with the picks, Melissa had no problem doing this, unlocking all three of them in less than a minute.

“Now for some fun,” Melissa announced with a giggle.

In almost no time at all, Melissa had chained the bicycles back up, though not only to the bike rack. This time, she’d chained them all to each other as well, in as much of a knot as she could. Then, she grinned evilly as she pulled a tube of super glue out of her bag of tricks. Seconds later, she made sure those nitwits would never be unable to unlock those chains.

Once Melissa was finished, she continued heading home, nearly skipping down the sidewalk as she did so. So far, this had been a GREAT birthday. She got ungrounded, met Blue Diamond, pranked Ed, Edd, and Eddy, and she even got to tease a superhero, just like the Imp.

“I just hope Dad doesn’t find out,” she muttered.

--------------------

Melissa sat at the desk in her bedroom, listening to the music that cranked out from her radio, and which her dad would have said was way too loud if he’d been home. However, even as she nodded her head to the music, most of her attention was occupied by the game she was playing on her computer. Mall Madness was a game where she could design her own mall, fill it with whatever stores she wanted, and then try to keep the businesses going. All in all, it was a pretty simple game, and even kind of boring, yet she still found it rather addicting.

“Okay, I have an empty spot in the food court,” Melissa mused thoughtfully. “What kind of restaurant should fill it?”

After playing for a few more minutes, Melissa finally logged out of the game and decided to check her email before getting off the computer. Her eyes lit up and she nearly jumped with excitement when she saw that she had an email from Emily. It was a short email, that just wished her a happy birthday, but it proved that Emily hadn’t forgotten about her, even if they hadn’t actually seen each other in months.

“I wish she could come to my party,” Melissa pouted, still disappointed that she wouldn’t have a real party. Of course, Aunt Brandy and her dad would be there, but none of her friends would. Three people didn’t make it a party.

After letting out a long sigh, Melissa finally logged onto to the Imp Fan Club Forum, which she herself had created about a year earlier. Melissa had always been a huge fan of the Imp, so she’d created the fan club and forum in order to meet up with other fans, so they could share news and storied about her. Unfortunately, not many people seemed to realize just how cool the Imp was, because the forum only had a few dozen people registered.

“Let’s see,” Melissa mused as she looked at the topic she’d started a couple weeks earlier, asking if anyone had seen the Imp recently. To her delight, there was a new response, from someone who’d only joined the forum less than a month ago. She read the screen name and mused, “Christine…”

This was the first time Christine had posted anything on the forum, and all she said was, “I have it on good authority that the beautiful, talented, and fabulous Imp has decided to end her brilliant career in art acquisition, and explore some exciting new career opportunities instead.”

Melissa read through the post three times before angrily blurting out, “Christine doesn’t know what she’s talking about. There’s no way Imp would retire. She’s the best.”

For a moment, Melissa was tempted to send Christine a response to tell her that she was wrong. After all, there was no way that the Imp would ever do that to Melissa. There was no way she’d just disappear and leave forever, the same way Melissa’s mom had. Tears of frustration began to form, though she quickly wiped them off and then logged off the internet.

“She’s wrong,” Melissa repeated, sure that Imp would come back. “Imp is not gone. She’s just laying low after what she did to Jerk Rabbit and Parakeet. She’ll be back any day now, then Christine will see…”

Just then, there was a knock on her bedroom door, making Melissa jump. Her dad poked his head in and she immediately brightened up. “You’re home…”

“So, what have you been up to today?” he asked as he came in and gave her a gentle hug.

“Not much,” Melissa responded, squirming awkwardly. After a moment, she grinned, “I went out running…so I could get some exercise.”

“Good for you,” he replied, giving her a suspicious look. “Are you sure you haven’t been getting into any mischief?”

Melissa giggled at that, then reminded him, “I AM Mischief.” She held up her MID car, which clearly had Mischief labeled as her codename. Then seeing the steady look her father was giving her, she deflated a bit and lied, “I didn’t get into any trouble…”

“Okay,” he said carefully, his expression making it clear that he was still a little skeptical. However, he didn’t push the issue.

“Did YOU get into any trouble?” Melissa teased, remembering how she’d seen him flying earlier.

“That depends on how you define trouble,” he admitted wryly. “I had been planning on a nice boring day of meetings with clients, but then I heard a report that some devil woman was robbing a bank…”

“Imp?” Melissa blurted out excitedly.

“No,” he responded with a chuckle. “It turns out it was just some drunk woman in a devil costume.

Melissa deflated in disappointment. “Oh.”

Her dad reached out and ruffled her hair, giving her a smile. “But there is good news. Tonight, I’m making lasagna for dinner…”

“My favorite,” Melissa blurted out excitedly. She made a show of licking her lips, which made her dad chuckle.

A short time later, Melissa was in the kitchen, helping her dad prepare dinner. In the past, he probably would have shooed her out of the kitchen so that she wouldn’t get in his way, but now, he seemed happy to have her help. Though chopping tomatoes and cucumbers for the salad wasn’t something that Melissa would normally have considered fun or exciting, the fact that she was helping make the salad for dinner was enough to make her grin.

Melissa had just finished preparing the salad when the doorbell rang. Before she could answer it, the door opened and a woman with shoulder length brown hair stepped inside, announcing, “I’m here…”

“Aunt Brandy,” Melissa exclaimed, rushing to give her a hug.

“Hey, birthday girl,” Aunt Brandy replied with a grin. She looked over and greeted her brother, “Hey Ryan.”

“Brandy,” he responded with a nod.

“Did you get me something cool?” Melissa asked, her eyes going to the birthday present that her aunt was holding.

Aunt Brandy just laughed. “Yep. The best scarf I could find.” At Melissa’s pout, she just laughed again. She set the present on the table, then reached up and pulled off the wig she was wearing, revealing her much shorter real hair, which was pure white and styled in something of a pixie cut. As she scratched her scalp, she mused, “You know, this damn wig gets pretty uncomfortable.”

“The price of protecting your identity,” Melissa’s dad pointed out with a shrug.

“Yeah,” she agreed with a sigh. “Sometimes I wish my hair wasn’t so recognizable…”

He just snorted. “It probably wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t use your real name as part of your codename too.”

“Maybe,” Brandy admitted. “But you know I picked it when I was Melissa’s age, and back then, I thought I was being clever.”

“We’re having lasagna,” Melissa bragged. “And I made the salad.”

Melissa enjoyed the dinner, and especially the cake and ice-cream that came as dessert. However, the entire time, she kept thinking about the presents, trying to guess what her dad and aunt were going to give her. By the time they were ready for her to open presents, she was nearly bursting with anticipation.

“What can I open first?” Melissa asked, bouncing in her seat as she looked around. There weren’t a lot of presents, but she was sure the ones she did have would be awesome.

“Let’s start with this,” her dad said with a chuckle.

He held a cardboard box that Melissa hadn’t seen before. It was about two feet across on each side, but only six inches deep, and it had mailing labels on the front.

“This arrived in the mail for you today,” he dad stated, staring at the mailing label with an curious look. “It’s from Candice Kade.”

“REALLY?” Melissa blurted out, jumping to her feet and staring at the package in surprise and delight.

“Who?” her Aunt Brandy asked.

“Candice is a talented artist,” Melissa’s dad explained, gesturing to the painting on the wall. “She’s painted that, as well as a few items I purchased for some clients.” Then he turned to Melissa, giving her a curious look. “You’ve only met her once, so you must have made quite an impression.”

Melissa beamed at that, proudly announcing, “I invited her to my party.” Then she deflated a little and quietly admitted, “But she never responded.”

Melissa tore into the box, which wasn’t wrapped up like a proper birthday present, but she didn’t really care. Seconds later, she’d revealed the contents, a painting of a cat chasing a mouse. However, the mouse was turned around, blowing a raspberry at the cat.

“Awesome,” Melissa exclaimed in delight. “I love it…”

“Look,” her dad said, holding up a note that had been in the box with the painting. “She sent a letter…” Melissa immediately took it from him and began to read.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MELISSA. THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME TO YOUR PARTY. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, I WON’T BE ABLE TO ATTEND. IT WOULD PROBABLY BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR ME TO COME…NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER STOPPED ME FROM DOING ANYTHING BEFORE, BUT I WILL ALSO BE OUT OF THE AREA FOR SOME TIME DUE TO AN IMPORTANT CAREER OPPORTUNITY. ONCE AGAIN, I HOPE YOU HAVE A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND I WISH YOU NOTHING BUT THE BEST. CANDICE KADE.

Melissa stared at the painting, then read through the note again in amazement. “She sent me a present… She made me my very own painting…”

“It sounds like you made a good impression,” Aunt Brandy told her.

Melissa nodded, immediately looked over the painting and trying to find whatever Candice had hidden in this one. While she was doing that, her dad explained, “Elegance with a touch of whimsy is a Candice Kade trademark.” He hesitated a moment, then admitted, “I’ve actually been thinking of asking her out the next time I see her.”

“Really?” Brandy asked, looking more interested.

After a minute, Melissa complained, “I can’t find anything.” She glared at the painting in frustration. “But she always hides stuff…”

“Now, open mine,” her aunt insisted.

Melissa eagerly tore into the new present, tossing the wrapping paper aside without a glance as she tried to get to the contents as quickly as possible. Seconds later, she’d opened the box and revealed a red leather jacket.

“OhmyGod,ohmyGod,ohmyGod,” Melissa exclaimed, jumping up and squealing with delight as she held the jacket up for a better look. “Thankyou,thankyou,thankyou…”

“I’m glad you like it,” Brandy commented wryly.

“I love it,” Melissa gushed, immediately giving her aunt a hug. “And its red too…my favorite color.”

Brandy gave Melissa’s dad a smug look at that. “I figure that since you’ll be starting at a new school in a few weeks, you’ll need some nice new threads to go with it.”

“This is awesome,” Melissa announced with a broad grin, already putting the jacket on and noting all the small pockets. They’d be perfect to hold the stuff from her bag of tricks.

“I had it made just a little large…so you’ll have room to grow.” Brandy explained proudly. “This is actually made of a specially treated kevra, and the liner contains a thin layer of impact gel, just to give you a little extra protection. And as a bonus, the impact gel makes for some nice insulation.”

“She’s going to boarding school,” Melissa’s dad pointed out with an amused smile. “Not combat.”

“I don’t know,” Brandy responded. “From what I’ve heard, that school can get a little rough sometimes…”

“I am a little worried about sending her to Whateley,” he admitted, watching Melissa with a faint smile. “But after what happened… This should be the perfect place to keep her safe…and teach her to protect herself.”

Brandy nodded agreement. “And if nothing else, being there will keep her away from the Imp.” She scowled as she firmly stated, “That woman is a BAD influence…”

“Imp is not,” Melissa immediately protested, glaring defiantly at her aunt. “She’s awesome…”

To Melissa’s surprise, her dad just chuckled. “Ironically, I think Imp may actually have been a good influence.”

Brandy stared at Melissa’s dad with a look of surprise. “I’ve met the Imp, remember. She’s a lunatic supervillain…”

“She certainly comes across that way,” he responded with a look of amusement. “But remember, I’ve known her far longer than you have. I’ve spent years trying to catch her…and pulling my hair out in frustration as a result.” He paused and shook his head. “But when Melissa was in trouble, Imp didn’t hesitate to help. She saved Melissa’s life several times, and I won’t forget that.”

“Yeah,” Melissa agreed, sticking her tongue out at her aunt. “Imp saved me. And she’s really nice.”

“She’s a thief,” Brandy pointed out grimly. “A supervillain…”

“True,” Melissa’s dad said, before she could say anything. He had an odd look on his face as he added, “But as I’ve learned, there’s a lot more to her than I’d ever guessed.”

“You know what she did to Frank,” Brandy snapped. “He’s too humiliated to show his face now, much less actually go out into the field. His fur has only just started to grow back…”

Melissa’s dad shook his head. “I warned him not to make it personal…”

Brandy glared at him as she demanded, “How can you defend her?”

“Because I’ve dealt with the Imp for years,” he answered grimly, “and I’ve seen how she deals with her opponents first-hand. The only time she ever gets that nasty, is when she thinks you’ve crossed the line. I know the Imp, and after Wisconsin, I think I actually understand her. In spite of being a thief…of everything she’s done…I don’t think she’s a bad person. She’s…complicated.”

For a moment, Brandy just stared at her brother in surprise. “Ryan Benjamin Chambers…you almost sound like you like her.”

“Of course not,” he quickly protested, though Melissa suddenly wondered if he was protesting a little too hard. “The next time she pulls a job, I won’t go easy on her.” Then he paused, and with an almost sad expression, he added, “I know how enough of her tricks work now, that the next time, she won’t be able to get away.”

Melissa scowled, not liking the direction this conversation was going, especially on her birthday. “Hey,” she exclaimed, trying to get their attention back where it belonged. “What present can I open next?”

Her dad gave her an amused look, obviously realizing what he was doing. “How about this one next?”

“Yippee,” Melissa exclaimed as she began tearing at the wrapping paper.

Once Melissa had her present unwrapped, she found a beautiful wooden jewelry box inside. She carefully ran her fingers over the wood, and the beautiful etchings that were done on the surface. And when she finally opened it, she gasped at the sight of all the jewelry.

“The box is from me,” her dad said, giving her a gentle smile. “The jewelry all belonged to your mother. I know that she would have wanted you to have it…”

“Thank you,” Melissa exclaimed, nearly leaping at her dad and grabbing him in a firm hug. Her eyes were tearing up, and she wiped them as she finally let go of her dad.

“I do have one more thing for you,” he told her, holding out a small present.

Seconds later, Melissa was staring at a new necklace, one with a pendant that had obviously been custom made. The pendant looked like a hawk, with its wings spread open. She immediately recognized the symbol since it was the exact same one her dad had on his superhero costume. Without a word, she gave him another hug.

Once all the presents had been opened and appreciated, Melissa went back to her bedroom. She carefully set the painting that Candice had given her onto the bed, at least until she could decide where to hang it. Then, she cleared off a spot on the dresser for the new jewelry box, and began moving the contents of her bag of tricks into the pockets of her new jacket.

Melissa let out a sigh, not really sure if this had been a good birthday or not. Sure, she’d been given some great presents, even better than she’d hoped. And of course, she got ungrounded and was able to go out and have some real fun while her dad was at work. Because of all that, she knew that she could consider it to be a great birthday. However, she couldn’t help but feeling disappointed at not having any friends to show up at her party.

“But Candice gave me a painting,” Melissa reminded herself, turning to look at it. Though she loved the painting, and knew that a painting from her favorite artist was something special, she still wished that Candice had been able to come in person. She wished the Imp had been able to come.

Suddenly, Melissa saw something in the painting that she hadn’t noticed before. There was a figure…a silhouette of a woman with horns and a tail. And beside her was a smaller silhouette, also with horns and a tail. Behind the two of them, there was a familiar looking symbol…or at least a half completed version of Imp’s logo of a smiley face with horns and a tail. Melissa gasped, feeling like her heart had just jumped up into her throat. She recognized the image. It was a picture of when she and Imp had met for the first time.

“She’s really her,” Melissa whispered in awe, nearly shaking as she stared at the painting more closely. Candice Kade was really the Imp, and this proved it. She had absolutely no idea how Candice and Imp could be the same person, but Imp was really clever, and Melissa knew that if anyone could figure out how to pull of that trick, she could. “Oh my God…”

Melissa just stood there, and for nearly a minute, she silently studied the painting. She was staring at it from the side, which is how she’d seen those silhouettes. When she’d looked at the painting from the front, she hadn’t seen anything, which had really disappointed her at the time. After all, Candice ALWAYS hid something in her paintings. However, this time, instead of just hiding a small joke, she’d hidden a whole other painting.

Tears began to run down Melissa’s cheeks as she whispered, “She remembered…”

In spite of her earlier protestations, Melissa had been afraid that the Imp really had abandoned her…had forgotten all about her. She’d been afraid that the Imp had gone away for good…just like her mom had years earlier. Melissa carefully picked up the painting, the proof that the Imp still cared about her. A few seconds later, she sat down on her bed, smiling happily as she held her greatest treasure.

The End…for now



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