Chapter 26: Be My Hero

Hero — Enrique Iglesias
A end  As the late afternoon sun hung heavy in the sky, neighbors began to trickle into the community garden which Cami had built. Ash arrived, and hung back watching as Cami gave several gardening demonstrations. She was so beautiful, and the way she threw her head back and laughed made Ash want to laugh out loud, too. He wanted to tell her. He had an urge to rush through the crowd and tell her what he had been thinking of all day – that he loved her. That they belonged together – he, she, and Summer. But he felt tongue-tied with so many people around. A end (5)A end (4)A end (3) A end (15)

So he contented himself with relaxing and enjoying the good food and music. As evening fell, however, and soft, dusky lamplight gave the garden an almost magical glow, Ash found the courage to approach Cami and ask her to dance. A end (2)

“I’d love to,” she said. And they danced together for the rest of the evening, not stopping until they were exhausted and happy, and the other guests were beginning to leave. Ash left slowly, wishing that instead, he could take Cami’s and Summer’s hands in his, and the three could go home together.A end (6)

By the time the sun rose the next morning, he had made up his mind. He pulled on his super suit, then drove quickly to Cami’s house. He did not ring the doorbell, but instead rapped lightly on Summer’s window. She came to the window, her eyes growing wide at the sight of him.

“Put on your super suit,” Ash said through the glass, motioning to his own costume. “And meet me outside.” Summer nodded that she had heard him. Five minutes later, she came flying out of the house.

“Dad, what are you doing here!” she squealed. “Mom’s not here. She walked to the garden.”

A end (1)

“Even better,” said Ash. “Listen, I have a plan. A super plan. But I need for you to tell me if it will work.” He explained his idea to Summer, who gasped.

“That’s a great plan!” she said. That was all the encouragement Ash needed. He and Summer walked together to the garden, where, sure enough, they found Cami, busy caring for plants. Summer giggled and ran around, playing, while Ash nervously approached Cami.

A end (8)

Cami’s face lit up when she saw Ash. “What are you doing here?” she asked, putting down her trowel. “Did you forget something last night?”

“Yes,” said Ash. “I forgot to tell you something.”

Cami looked at his costume, amused. “You forgot to tell me that you have actual superpowers?”

Ash shook his head. “No. In fact, I’m not a very good superhero after all.”

A end (9)A end (10)

“But you’ve saved so many people. Why would you say that?”

“Because,” said Ash, stepping closer and looking into Cami’s eyes. “I’m a superhero who needs you to rescue him.”

Cami gazed back at him. “Me, rescue you? From what?” Her voice was soft, hopeful.

“From a life without you. From nights where I can’t stop wishing that you were there beside me. From living away from you and Summer. I need you to rescue me, Cami.” He reached out to stroke her cheek. “I love you, Cami. Will you be my hero?”

A end (11)

Cami nodded, her eyes shining. Then she let out a gasp as Ash grabbed her waist and dipped her backwards into a long, slow kiss.

A end (7)

“Okay, people. There’s still a kid here!” Summer called out from across the garden.

Cami and Ash both burst out laughing. Then Cami said, “Yes, of course I’ll be your hero. But there’s just one problem.”

A end (12)

Ash’s heart skipped a beat. She was going to say that she already had a boyfriend. Or that she was in love with someone else. Or —

Cami bit her lip. “Well you see…I can’t fly. It’s hard to be a superhero when you can’t fly.”

Ash took a deep breath, flooded with relief. “That’s no problem,” he told her. “You just need lessons from an expert superhero like me.”

“Is that right?” Cami grinned, then let out a shriek as Ash scooped her up into his arms.

A end (14)

“Okay…maybe I’m not such an expert,” he said, grunting under the weight.

Cami wrapped her arms tightly around him. “I love you, Ash,” she said. “And you can still be my hero, even if you can’t fly.”

 

THE END

 

Chapter 25: The Flower Shop

Believe it or Not — The Greatest American Hero Theme Song (Chapter 25 Soundtrack)
Better World (4)  The city of Mors Canyon was changing. After Akash discovered the reason behind the mystery illness that had sickened so many people, including his parents, the city had risen up to fight the government. The citizens filed a lawsuit against the military for the toxic leak, and for covering it up. They won, of course, and the military was forced to pay millions of dollars in medical expenses and environmental cleanup.

Akash and Dr. Mack became instantly renowned. They spent several months traveling all over the country together, giving seminars and answering questions about their part in solving such a perplexing medical mystery. They were even featured in a medical mysteries documentary on Discovery Health Channel.

Better World (6)Better World (5)Better World (3)

When he returned to Mors Canyon, the first thing he wanted to do was see his daughter. “We’re at my new flower shop,” Cami explained. “We’d love to have you stop by for a visit.” Ash followed the address to a small, quaint brick shop in Cami and Summer’s neighborhood. Bright, cheerful displays of flowers lined the walls and spilled from flowerpots. Ash felt a fluttering of pride as he wandered around, taking it all in while Cami busied herself with customers. Better World (9) Better World (1) Better World (2)

“Cami!” a familiar voice rang out across the shop. Ash turned to see Tammy Black, Cami’s mother, stride across the room.

“Hi Mom,” Cami kissed her mother’s cheek. “When did you and Trevor get back from Florida?”

Tammy waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, well, Trevor and I aren’t together anymore. I met Justin in Florida and he came back with me.”

“Justin is it?” Cami raised an eyebrow, amused.

Better World (7) Better World (10)

Just then, Summer came skipping up. “Grandma!” she cried.

Tammy clicked her tongue. “Now you know what we talked about. You mustn’t call me Grandma, because it makes me feel old.”

“Okay, Grandma.”

Better World (11) Better World (14)

Ash decided that it was time to approach Cami. “Hi,” he said.

Cami smiled. “Hi yourself.” Her eyes twinkled with light like stars, and for a brief moment, Ash forgot what he had been planning to say.

“Hi,” he said again, his face growing hot. “Um…I love your shop. Looks great.”

“Thanks. It was my little attempt at saving the world, I guess you could say.” She shrugged.

“It’s working,” said Ash, thinking of the sudden increase in lush landscaping and flowers around the city. It was as though the whole city had gone green all at once, planting trees and removing the wreckage and eyesores that had plagued the town since the earthquake. Better World (13)

“Hey listen,” said Cami, “later this afternoon, we’re having a community barbecue at the garden. I’m planning to do some gardening demonstrations, and lots of people are coming. I’d love – Summer and I would love it if you could come too.”

“This afternoon? Well—”

Before Ash could answer, Summer bounded across the room. “Please, Daddy, come to the barbecue,” she begged. “Please please please – it’ll be so super fun!”

Ash couldn’t help but grin. “Super fun, huh? Then I guess I’ll have to come. We superheroes have to have super fun together.”

Better World (12)

“Yay!” Summer grabbed Ash’s hand and twirled around, her eyes shining with excitement. Ash looked from her to Cami, and suddenly felt like the three of them were pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle. And that he, the renowned Dr. Ash Chowdhury, was not complete without the two of them.

 

Chapter 24: The Cover-Up

Wish I Could Fly Like Superman — The Kinks (Chapter 24 Soundtrack)
Ash and Summer (6)The results were unmistakable. The groundwater and soil samples which Ash had collected from the east side of Mors Valley were contaminated. The levels of cadmium were shockingly high, and accounted for many of the symptoms that resembled cadmium toxicity. But there were also traces of other toxins present – toxins which Ash was unable to identify.

Akash Acclaim (32)Akash Acclaim (34)

“You must have made some mistake,” said Dr. Mack with a dubious frown. “The CDC did such a thorough investigation of the city. They didn’t find any high levels of toxins.”

“Look, I did not make any mistake!” said Ash. “The data is accurate. I think that the CDC must have skipped environmental testing on the east side of town.”

Dr. Mack’s frown deepened. “But why would they do that?”

Akash Acclaim (29) Akash Acclaim (28)

The answer was suddenly so clear, that Ash wondered why it hadn’t occurred to him before. “It’s a cover-up!” He clapped a hand to his forehead. “The military research facility!”

Dr. Mack’s mouth dropped open. “Maybe there was an accident – possibly due to the earthquake. Maybe the government already knew about the toxic leak and wanted to keep the knowledge quiet.” Akash Acclaim (36)Akash Acclaim (40)

Ash felt a chill run down his spine. All these years, his family had been drinking east side tap water and eating food grown in east side soil. It was a wonder that he had managed to stay healthy. Luckily, Cami and Summer lived on the west side of the city, which did not appear to be affected. “We have to let the public know that they are not safe,” he said. “People must be warned. The government can’t cover it up once the press gets wind of the source of illness.” Akash Acclaim (33)

Screenshot-106 (2)

Even Cami joined in the public outcry against the toxic environment.

He went to work right away. He contacted every local media outlet and spread the word that all citizens on the east side of town must switch to bottled water until the toxins were cleaned up. The public outcry was swift and strong. Even Cami joined the protest, marching at the city capitol and in front of the military base, demanding that the government clean up the environment and protect the citizens.

Some of the patients grew sicker, and several more died,

Some of the patients grew sicker, and several more died.

Akash Acclaim (26)

Some of the patients went on to live normal, healthy lives.

Ash and Dr. Mack had hoped to be able to find a way to treat those who suffered from the illness. Unfortunately, there was no known cure for cadmium toxicity, or for the autoimmune disease which some of the patients had developed in response to the exposure, or even for the symptoms caused by foreign toxins, which Ash eventually managed to identify once the military researchers began to cooperate. Some of the patients continued to grown sicker, and several more died. But others improved with time, and were able to leave the hospital and resume normal, healthy lives. Mors Canyon (12) Mors Canyon (13) Mors Canyon (19)

Chapter 23: The Late Bloomers

O Mere Papa the Great — Udit Narayan, Aditya Narayan
Ash and Summer (1)   I am a father. Ash kept turning the words over in his mind, barely believing them. I am a father. A dad. I have a daughter.

Summer looked so much like Cami. And yet, in her expressions, and in the sharp lines of her face, Ash could also see himself, and even his mother.

A father.

She was talkative, and bubbly, like Cami. And terrible in school, as he had once been. “Especially reading,” said Summer with a groan. “I’m the slowest reader in the class, and the other kids tease me.”

“Some of us are just late bloomers,” Ash told her. “I didn’t get the hang of reading well until high school, with the help of tutors.”

Summer’s face brightened. “Will you tutor me?” she asked. How could he resist? Now that he has met his daughter, he didn’t want to leave her side. He helped her with her homework until late that night, then tucked her into bed beside Cami, who was sound asleep, and read her the first chapter of Pippi Longstocking. Ash and Summer (14)Ash and Summer (17)Mors Canyon (133)

He spent that night on the living room sofa, and the next morning, went to work with a renewed sense of purpose. No longer was he researching the death of his parents, or even trying to save the sick people of Mors Canyon. Now, he researching to protect his daughter. Because although he had only just met her, he knew that it would destroy him if anything happened to her.  Ash and Summer (7) Ash and Summer (20) Ash and Summer (21) Ash and Summer (5)

He worked fervently in the labs, testing, probing, and interpreting results. And he spent every ounce of free time with Summer. He helped her with her schoolwork while Cami worked on opening her business. He read with her, taught her how to cook and how to swim and how to throw a Frisbee. Ash and Summer (13) Ash and Summer (10) Ash and Summer (11)

“When I grew up,” he told Summer one day, “I wanted to be a superhero. Now I am a scientist.”

“When I grow up,” said Summer, “I want to be a superhero and a scientist. I want to be just like you.”

Ash and Summer (3) Ash and Summer (4) Ash and Summer (2)

 

Chapter 22: Graduation Day Surprise

Isn’t She Lovely? — Stevie Wonder (Chapter 22 Soundtrack)
meeting (4) “Mommy, did my dad die?” Summer asked one day while she and Cami were working in the garden.

Cami was so startled, she dropped her watering can. “No, sweetie. Your dad is still alive. What made you ask?”

“Well,” said Cami, tracing in the soil with her toes, “it’s just that you’ve never talked about him. And I’ve never like, seen him or anything. What is he like?”

Cami offered a weak smile. “To be honest, he’s a lot like you.” This was true. So much about Summer – her innocent imagination, her love for cooking, even her struggles with learning how to read, reminded Cami so much of the boy whom she had once loved. She had thought that she was doing the right thing by not telling Ash about his daughter, but as time passed, and Summer grew, she was less and less certain. meeting (3) meeting (5) meeting (7)

And so, the night before she was to graduate from college, she dialed Ash’s number.

Meeting

“Cami!” Ash’s voice sounded stunned. “How are you? How’s your…family?”

“Summer and I are fine,” she said. “In fact, tomorrow, I’m graduating. And I was hoping that you could join us for dinner afterward?”

“I’d love to,” said Ash.

The next evening, Cami walked with the other graduates and received her degree in business.

“Hurray! And now you’ll be able to open your garden shop!” said Summer, bouncing up and down with excitement.

“And now I’ll be able to open my garden shop,” said Cami, laughing. Just then, the doorbell rang. Ash was here.

meeting (8)

“Congratulations on your graduation,” said Ash, handing Cami a small, elegantly-wrapped gift. Inside, there was a slender silver necklace. From it dangled a tiny Superman symbol. “Encouragement to keep up your quest to save the world.”

meeting (9)

Cami smiled and fastened the necklace around her neck. “I love it. Though I hear it’s you who’s out there saving the world these days. From this weird illness.”

Ash’s face clouded for a moment. “Well, not quite yet. But we’re working on it.”

Cami bit her lip. “Look, there’s something very important that I need to tell you. You may want to sit down.”

 

Ash’s expression switched to one of alarm. “You’re not sick, are you?”

“No, it’s not that—”

“Is it Summer?”

“No. I mean yes, it’s about her. But she’s not sick.” She looked at him, her eyes pleading with him to understand. “Ash, Summer is your daughter.”

meeting (12)

Ash didn’t answer. He stood frozen, the same alarmed expression glued to his face.

“Ash?”

He gave a slow shake of the head. “That’s not possible. How is it possible?”

Cami smiled wryly. “I’m kinda thinking you would have learned that in med school, Doctor.”

meeting (14)

Ash closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were flashing like lightning, his anger unmistakable. “How could you be so selfish, Cami? How could you hide something so important from me? How could you not tell me that I’m a father?

meeting (11)

“I understand—”

“No, I don’t think you do understand!” Ash raised his voice. “Imagine if it had been you. Imagine if no one ever told you that you had a daughter. Imagine missing out on her first steps, and her first words, and reading the same ridiculous baby book to her fifty times in a row because she asked you to. Imagine!”

meeting (13)

Cami could feel Ash’s pain and anger pulse through her like poison. He was right – she had been selfish, keeping a gift like Summer all to herself. Ash should have been there to hold his daughter, to see her grow, and to be a part of her life. “I’m sorry,” she kept saying. “I’m so sorry.”

Ash looked away from her. “Just…just bring her in here. I want to meet my daughter.”

meeting (10)

Cami nodded, then rushed to find Summer, who was playing quietly in your room. “Your daddy wants to meet you, baby,” she said. “He’s waiting for you in the kitchen.”

Summer’s eyes lit up. “My daddy? He’s really here?” She dropped her toys and raced to the kitchen, while Cami hung back and peeked through the doorway. Summer approached the table where Ash was seated, her mouth hanging open as though she were about to meet a real, live superhero.

Ash’s eyes were bright with tears. “Hi Summer. My name is Akash. I’m your dad.”

meeting (17)

 

 

Chapter 21: Tests and Cures

Down With the Sickness — Disturbed (Chapter 21 Soundtrack)

Ash was losing hope. One moment, he had felt happy, lying beside his new girlfriend, Renata. And the next moment, he was arguing with her, trying to convince her to go to the hospital. “You’re not well, Renata,” he said. “You have early symptoms of the illness.”

Mac (53)Test (4)

“I am not sick!” she insisted. But at last, she could deny it no longer and went to the hospital.

Test (2)

Ash felt sick, too, but in a different way. Too many people were suffering from an illness that he still could not stop. And now, even his girlfriend lay in a hospital bed, writhing with fever and stomach pains.

He began to work almost around the clock, visiting patients in the hospital as well as in their own homes. He ran tests on the ill and healthy alike. He read research books and lab reports until his eyes were sore and red.

Tests

Test (3) Test (5)

He and Dr. Mack tried a variety of medications and treatments. Some appeared to respond. But when they gave the same medications to other patients, they only grew sicker. Test (6) Test (1) Test (8) Test (9) Test (7)

One day, an idea so simple occurred to Ash, that he couldn’t believe no one had mentioned it. He studied the lab reports again. The CDC had conducted environmental tests in a number of locations – most of which were on the west side of Mors Canyon. The west side – but not on the east side, toward the military base. “This can’t be right,” Ash said, showing his findings to Dr. Mack. “At least half our patients live or work on the military base.”

Test

Dr. Mack frowned. “I don’t understand why the CDC didn’t conduct any tests there.”

Ash felt a spark of fire return within him. Without delay, he set off to conduct tests in his old neighborhood. He took soil samples and plant samples. He collected groundwater and creek water. Then he took them back to the lab for testing. He was on the verge of a breakthrough – he just knew it!

Test (13) Test (12) Test (11)

Content and exhausted, Ash finally went home. He had plans to shower and get a good night’s sleep before returning to the lab to check on the samples. But before he could turn in, his phone rang.

Test (10)

“Hello?” he said, yawning.

“Hello, Ash.” It was Cami.