by Martin Maenza
A used, green, 1980 Volkswagen sat parked on the side of the road as its owner talked on a nearby pay phone. The young man, age eighteen, had brown hair and was well-built. “Yes, Mom,” he said into the speaker of the handset. “The car is running fine.”
From the other end, the woman’s voice dispensed advice. “Just remember to keep an eye on the oil levels. I always had to do that.”
“I will, Mom,” the young man said. “Oh, and I wanted to thank you again for backing up my story with Cousin Jack and the family back in Coast City. That made things go a lot smoother with them.”
“It’s the least I can do,” his mother said. “After all, we have to keep our family secret a secret.”
The young man nodded. “Yeah, you’re right there. I’m hoping to head back to Coast City after I finish with things here in Dallas. Not sure if I’ll be staying with Cousin Jack’s family again or if I’ll look up Cousin Hal. Lots of options to consider, you know.”
“Your father, God rest his soul, was always fond of your Cousin Hal,” the woman said. “That’s why we named you after him.”
Young Hal Jordan smiled. “I’m fond of Cousin Hal, too.” Of course, young Hal knew his namesake’s secret, one he couldn’t share with his mother. Helen Jordan only knew of one hero currently in the family, and that wasn’t Green Lantern. “Look, Mom, I’d better get going. Just wanted to check in with you and let you know I made the trip fine. I promise to call you regularly so you won’t worry.”
“You do that, honey,” Helen Jordan said. “I know your last period of being incommunicado was out of your control, but a mother worries nonetheless. Talk with you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too,” Hal said, then he hung up the handset.
The young man headed back to his car. The back seat was full of the things that couldn’t fit in the small trunk, including a suitcase and some sporting equipment. He started the car and headed for a familiar neighborhood. “I just hope this goes as smoothly as it did with Cousin Jack and Jan,” he said to himself.
On his car radio, the song Danger Zone by Lenny Koggins played.
Hal Jordan pulled into one of the few residential neighborhoods in Dallas with which he was familiar. It had been a little less than three years ago that he had first set foot there; his mother had sent him down to Texas to live with his Cousin Jack Jordan, his wife Jan, and their twins Jennifer and Jason. Helen found it difficult raising a son as a single parent; her husband, the famous district attorney Larry Jordan, had died a few years earlier. Helen felt the time with other family might do young Hal some good.
And things went fairly well for him while living here. He began attending Taylor High School as a sophomore, and the coaches were so impressed with his athletic ability that he even started that Fall on the Tigers football team. He continued with the team in his junior and senior years as well. His last year of high school had been going quite well until he answered a call for help as Air Wave. That January day, he had merely assumed it would be like any other super-hero case — go and lend a hand, then be home in time for dinner.
But it didn’t turn out that way at all. It wasn’t like stopping a robbery or even facing guys like Casey Jones, Cosmic Corsair, or the Sunspotter. Little did Hal know that when he went to Australia last year, he would end up being stuck in an energy form for quite a while. Thanks to another villain by the name of Sonar, Hal was eventually able to regain his human form months later, only to end up a prisoner in a backwater European country called Modora. If it wasn’t for the unexpected rescue by the members of the Titans West, he’d still be cooling his heels in that old, dank dungeon.
Hal Jordan let out a sigh. “And that brings me back to my reason for returning to Dallas,” he said to himself. “Even though I’m eighteen, I can’t move on with my life. Before I can start college, I need to finish my high school degree. And it will be a lot quicker to do so back here at Taylor High.”
As Hal drove down the street, he slowed the car down. “There’s the family’s old house,” he said. A realtor’s sign sat in the front lawn with the word sold crossing it. Cousin Jack told him last weekend that someone finally closed on it and would be moving in soon. Had that not been the case, Hal could have stayed there for the months he needed to finish school.
But the young man had to fall back on Plan B. He continued slowly down to the next house and parked the car on the street. The name on the mailbox read Peterson.
Hal turned off the car, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car. “Time to face the music.”
Hal was barely halfway up the stone walk when the front door flew open. “Hal Jordan, is that you?” an excited female voice called. A young woman with long, wavy blond hair practically leaped from the porch. She wore a teal blue blouse, a brown suede skirt, and brown boots.
Hal smiled. It was good to see a familiar face. “Hey, Karen,” he said.
“Hey? What kind of welcome is that?” Karen Peterson asked. “This is a welcome.” She gave him a great big hug. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Thanks, thanks. Good to see you again, too.” Hal knew from talking to her on the phone that Karen was looking forward to seeing him again. Still, the added enthusiasm was an extra surprise. When she stopped hugging him, he gestured toward his car. “Should I bring my stuff in now or wait until later?”
“Whatever works for you,” Karen replied.
“I’ll get it in a bit, then,” Hal said. “Say, you sure your folks don’t mind me crashing here for a while? I don’t want to be a burden or anything.”
Karen laughed. “You’re not a burden. You’re practically family.” They started to walk back toward the house. “Mom and Dad were so close with the Jordans. They were sad to see Jack and Jan move away. Me, too, as I lost that steady babysitting gig.”
“They told me to say hello,” Hal said. “I’ve even got a picture from Jennifer for you.”
“Great.” Karen opened the front door and showed Hal in. She led him upstairs. There was a bathroom at the top of the stairs, then two doors on the right. “We’ll have to share the bathroom. But you’ll be staying in my brother Gary’s old room. He’s off at Texas University studying business.” She opened the door. The room was decorated in earthy tones, and Gary’s various sports trophies adorned the desk.
“This is good,” Hal said. “Thanks.”
“Why don’t you get yourself settled? I’ve got to finish getting dinner together. My parents will be home for dinner by six. How’s Tex-Mex sound?”
Hal nodded. “Sounds great. I haven’t had any authentic Tex-Mex in a long time.”
Karen smiled. “Great.” She headed for the door, then stopped and turned. “It is good to have you back, Hal.” She winked, then headed out of the room.
Hal and Karen sat at the dinner table with the young woman’s parents. They ate the delicious dinner that Karen had prepared earlier that afternoon.
“So, young man,” Mr. Peterson said, addressing Hal, “you thought going backpacking in Europe for a year was more important than finishing school, eh?”
“Oh, Tom,” Mrs. Peterson said, “don’t give the boy the third degree. He’s a guest in our home.”
“Lynn, I just thought that sounded like an rather crazy notion for a seventeen-year-old to do,” the man defended himself.
“I’m sure Hal had a good reason,” Karen jumped to her friend’s defense. The young girl knew where Hal had gotten off to for that long stretch of time, but she couldn’t reveal to anyone that she knew Hal’s secret — even to Hal. “Don’t you, Hal?”
“I’ll admit, sir, that it was a bit crazy,” Hal said confidently, having rehearsed variations of this discussion over and over in his head. “But a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came up, and believe me: I learned a lot from it.” And that last part was no understatement. With his mom’s help, the story had worked well with the rest of his family. He had no fear that it wouldn’t work again. “Still, I know the importance of an education.”
“And that’s why he’s back in Dallas, Daddy,” Karen said. “He plans to finish his senior year out and graduate with my class this June.”
“Is that so, boy?” Mr. Peterson asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Hal. “In fact, I have an appointment first thing Monday morning with Principal Healey and my guidance counselor to get the entire plan in place. I should be able to pick right back up where I was when I left last January.”
“Sounds very sensible,” Mrs. Peterson remarked. “Now, who’s up for dessert?“
That Monday, Hal parked his car in the high school’s student parking lot and took a moment to take it all in. “Taylor High hasn’t changed all that much,” he said. “Except for the underclassmen having all moved up, this shouldn’t be so bad.”
“You’ll be fine,” Karen said as she retrieved her book bag. She noticed a few of her friends across the way. “I’ll catch you later, OK?”
Hal nodded, and Karen walked off. He headed into the main lobby just as the first bell sounded. The floors looked shiny. Mr. Hilt, the janitor, must have cleaned them over the Christmas break.
“Hal Jordan?” a female voice called. He spun around just in time to get his face slapped hard.
“Hey!” he said as he rubbed his cheek. The slap stung, causing his cheek to turn slightly pink.
Standing before him was a red-headed girl in a Tigress cheerleader outfit. Hal recognized the shapely, attractive girl instantly. “Samantha!”
“I’m surprised you remember, Hal Jordan!” Samantha Crockett snapped. “We had a date for last year’s Valentine’s dance, and you stood me up! How dare you? I spent seventy-five dollars on a new gown and matching shoes, not counting getting my hair done! All that, and you didn’t show up! You didn’t call or anything!”
“I-I–” Hal stuttered. He’d completely forgotten about that. Stuff like that happened when one was off saving the world from an alien incursion. “Look, I’m sorry, but–“
Samantha cut him off. “Don’t you dare talk to me ever again!” She stormed off to join the other cheerleaders who then collectively snubbed him.
Great, Hal thought to himself, so much for picking up on my old social life. As head cheerleader, Samantha would ensure that Hal was treated like a leper for the rest of his days at Taylor High.
Oh, well, thought Hal. At least things had to get better.
“So nice of you to come back, Mr. Jordan,” Principal Healey said as he sat back in his chair behind his desk. He had a brown toupée that covered his bald scalp; most of the kids talked about it, but never to Healey’s face. “It would have been a shame for someone with your potential to drop out of school.”
“I totally agree,” said Russ Jones. The guidance counselor was a tall, thin man with a graying beard. “Luckily, the boy is coming back at approximately the same time he took off last year. That means he should be able to catch up on the workload rather quickly.” Jones spoke to Healey as if Hal wasn’t in the room. “Most of the instructors had openings to add him to the roster.” Jones handed the principal a schedule.
Healey glanced it over, noting the courses and names. “That looks satisfactory,” he said as he handed the paper to Hal. “I believe you are familiar with most of the teachers and know where their rooms are.”
Hal looked over the schedule. Breck for English. Kowolski for Sociology and Economics. Guyamin for Physics. Williams for Computers. This wouldn’t be a half bad schedule, after all. “Yes, sir, I do,” Hal said.
“Good, good,” said Healey. “Then you best be getting to class, son. I think you’ve missed enough time as it is.”
Hal stood up. “Yes, sir.” He started for the door. “And thank you again, sir, for letting me come back.”
Principal Healey nodded with a smile. It was nice to see a respectful teenager.