Superman: Dawnbreaker (DC Icons #4)(2)

“Yeah, before he bailed on us,” Paul scoffed.

Tommy shot Paul a dirty look. “What’d we talk about earlier, man? This is about moving forward. It’s about second chances.”

Clark shrank into himself.

Two years later and he still couldn’t stomach the idea that he’d let the team down. And then lied to them. He hadn’t quit football to concentrate on school, like he told everyone at the time. He quit because he could have scored on just about every play from scrimmage. And the urge to dominate—wrong as it seemed—grew stronger with each passing game. Until one day he ran over Miles Loften during a tackling drill, sending him to the hospital with fractured ribs. And Clark had only been going about 50 percent. After practice, he’d climbed the bleachers and sat alone, long into the night, contemplating what was no longer possible for him to overlook—just how drastically different he was. And how bad it would be if anyone found out.

Before leaving that night, he’d decided to hang up his cleats.

He hadn’t played an organized sport since.

When Tommy stopped walking, everyone else did, too. “I’m just gonna come right out and say it.” He glanced at Kyle and Paul before turning back to Clark. “We need you.”

Kyle nodded. “Come back soon and you’ll be able to reestablish yourself before summer workouts. Shit, Coach would probably even make you a captain.”

“What do you say, Clark?” Tommy play-punched him in the arm. “Can we count on you?”

Clark wanted so badly to come through for these guys. To put on the pads and get back to work. To feel like he was a part of something again, something bigger than himself. But it was impossible. Injuring teammates and scoring seven touchdowns a game was bad enough when he was a freshman. Imagine if things like that happened on varsity. With everyone watching. He just couldn’t risk it. His parents had warned him how dangerous it could be if the world were to discover the depths of his mysterious abilities. And the last thing he wanted to do was bring trouble to the family. Kids at school already teased him about being too good. Too perfect. It was the reason he’d started wearing glasses he didn’t actually need. And mixing in a couple of Bs on his report card.

Clark adjusted his glasses, looking at the sidewalk. “I really wish I could,” he told Tommy in a lifeless voice. “But I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“See?” Paul said. “Told you he didn’t give a shit about us.”

“Unbelievable,” Kyle added, shaking his head.

Tommy turned away from Clark. “Easy, fellas. We can’t force the guy to be loyal—”

The man in brown turned a corner and cut right through the four of them. He forcefully bumped shoulders with Tommy, causing him to fumble his iced coffee to the ground.

Clark and his ex-teammates were struck silent for several seconds, until Kyle kicked the plastic cup across the sidewalk and called after the guy, “Hey, asshole! You need to watch where the hell you’re going!”

The man spun around and shouted something back at Kyle in Spanish. Then he spit on the sidewalk and held up a small blade, as if daring them to say anything else.

“Yo, he’s got a knife!” Paul shouted.

When Clark stepped in front of his friends, he saw how jittery the man’s bloodshot eyes were. And he was mumbling under his breath.

“What’s he saying?” Kyle asked Paul, who was Mexican and spoke Spanish at home.

Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. Something about getting back to Metropolis.”

Clark wondered if the guy might be on drugs. What else could explain his bloodshot eyes and the way he’d been standing in the pouring rain? And he wasn’t just staring at Clark now. He was staring through Clark. “Let’s leave him alone,” Clark said, focusing on the knife in the man’s left hand. “There’s something off about the way he’s acting.”

“Screw that,” Kyle said, elbowing past Clark. He pointed at the man, shouting, “Nobody slams into my teammate like that without apologizing. You think I’m scared of that little bullshit switchblade?”

The man lunged, swinging the knife violently, the blade grazing Kyle’s forearm, before quickly retreating.

Kyle looked at the blood trickling down his arm. He looked at the man.

Then all hell broke loose.

Clark bounded forward to kick the knife out of the guy’s hand, sending it skittering under a parked car. Tommy and Paul threw their backpacks into the street and charged. They tackled the man onto the hard, wet pavement, but he managed to scurry out of their grasp, leap to his feet, and retreat.

Kyle made a move to join the fray, but Clark pulled him back. “Hang on!”

“Oh, hell no! He just cut my ass!” Kyle took a wider angle this time and joined Tommy and Paul as the three of them stalked the guy, backing him into a row of parked cars.

Clark knew how lopsided the fight would be. The man was wild-eyed and showed no fear, but he was clearly no match for three hulking football players.

Clark’s instinct was to rush in and break everything up before anyone got seriously hurt. But things had gone horribly wrong the last time he’d used his powers in public. It had been winter. He’d been walking to the library when he spotted a big rig careening across a large ice patch on Highway 22. Without thinking, he’d sprinted over and used his strength to grab hold of the massive truck before it could flatten the Alvarez Fruits and Vegetables stand at the side of the road. Only he’d somehow overcorrected the big rig’s momentum, toppling the heavy trailer, spilling dozens of oil drums out onto the two-lane highway. Oil had gushed everywhere.

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