The harassment at school doesn’t get better.
She’d thought that maybe the talk would die down after a few weeks and she could go back to living her life, but it doesn’t and she can’t. Instead the whispers continue to follow her around the halls. A few of the older theatre kids shoot her sympathetic looks over their lunches, but no one ever seems to say anything in her defense out loud.
She fights back once with a well-timed fist to the face of one of the basketball players in her history class, but it doesn’t help any. She just ends up with bruised knuckles, a week of detention, and a stern lecture when she gets home.
She finally talks to her father about it over winter break.
Kara is visiting Lois and Clark in Metropolis for the week and her mom is away at a scientific meeting, so it’s just her and her dad. After a night of pizza and old episodes of The Twilight Zone, they head out to the deck, where her telescope is set up. As her father peers through, looking for Cetus in the night sky, Alex pulls her sweater tighter around herself. The outdoor firepit gives off some heat, but it’s still the dead of winter, and even though they live in Southern California, she feels the chill deep within her bones.
“One sec, let me just…” Her dad fiddles with a few knobs on the side of the telescope, then steps back, nodding in satisfaction. He pulls over two of the deck chairs and sits down, motioning for Alex to take the other. “Alright, what’s up kiddo?”
She sits across from her dad and takes a deep breath in, letting the crisp, cold air fill her lungs. She shivers and scoots her chair closer to the fire. Her dad throws another log into the pit and the flames crackle. She watches as small embers float off into the night sky.
“What do you do when people are saying things about you that aren’t true?”
Her dad sets down the fire poker and turns to look at her. To really look at her. He doesn't say anything, but she feels like he can see right through her, and she’s not sure why that scares her so much.
She tilts her head back and gazes up into the night sky, as if somewhere up in the cosmos, there was an answer. They’re far enough away from the city that she can see the stars twinkling and she feels so, so small.
“I just. Vicky is spreading lies and I just… She’s saying I’m… That I’m…”
She can’t say it. The words are at the tip of her tongue. She hears them almost everyday in the corridors and in the locker room. But she can’t say it.
She purses her lips and looks down at her socks. The dinosaurs on her feet stare right back up at her.
“Have you thought about why it bothers you?” her dad presses softly, “The things they’re saying?”
She has, but it’s like the answer is located somewhere behind a door in her mind and she’s unable to see past it. She knows she doesn’t have a problem with people who are… that way . Kara had recently become enamored with movie musicals and they’ve seen RENT more times than she can count. And while she liked Oz, she can absolutely see how Tara is a much better fit for Willow. It’s just that… She’s not like that.
An uncomfortable weight settles in her chest as she tries to wrap her head around why she’s feeling this way. The door is locked— bolted shut— and she doesn’t have the key. She curls up in her chair, pulling her knees up to her chest.
“I- I don’t know,” she murmurs.
Her dad tilts his head to the side, considering her. “Alex, you know you can tell me anything, right?”
They’re at a stalemate. Her dad seems to be waiting for her to say something, but she’s not sure what he expects to hear.
Her father leans forward to squeeze her shoulder, then stands. “Why don’t we get some hot cocoa?”
Her shoulders sag, relieved that he’d given her an out.
She’s had enough introspection for one night.
Now that she’s a loner at school, Maggie’s letters are really her only source of comfort.
Their responses get longer and longer, more personal. They trade stories about their childhoods and Alex learns about how Maggie lost her first tooth and how after she got chicken pox and had to miss the class field trip to the Zoo and Aquarium, her father took her for a special trip. They talk about their favorite books, hidden talents, and their dreams for the future. Her parents have even started to ask about how Maggie is doing.
Apparently she talks about Maggie a lot.
But in February, the letters abruptly stop coming.
At first, Alex thinks Maggie is just busy. Maybe she had a family emergency in Omaha and had to quickly rush over there. It wouldn’t be unheard of, her grandfather was very ill a few months ago, but after two weeks of radio silence, Alex begins to panic. Maybe there was something in her last letter that offended Maggie. Or maybe she was complaining too much and Maggie decided she was finally tired of her.
After three weeks, she decides to send another letter.
It’s a little late for a Valentine’s card, considering it’s now March, but Alex sends one anyway. She’d bought it for Maggie when they first started showing up in the store because she knows Maggie has a soft spot for dogs and the card with the german shepherd had jumped out at her. Kara had raised an eyebrow, but her mom had bought it for her with a soft smile after she’d explained who it was for.
Friends send each other valentine’s gifts all the time, it isn’t a big deal.
Hopefully Maggie would understand it being late. Her letters had never gotten lost before, but the weather channel had been talking about how much snow the midwest was getting and so it’s possible there were mail delays. Or it just got misplaced and never reached its destination.
She goes about her business, content in her rationalization that the postal service was responsible.
But a little over a week later, a familiar envelope shows up in the Danvers’s mailbox.
It’s the same light pink envelope she’d just sent to Maggie. She recognizes her own careful penmanship on the address. But there’s something written there that she doesn’t remember adding. Right across the front in large block letters is the phrase: Return to Sender.
Had she slipped up and written down Maggie’s address on the envelope incorrectly? She’s pretty sure she’d memorized it, but she checks it against the last letter she received from Maggie, just in case, and yep— it matches.
Did Maggie move and just not remember to update her? Or maybe she was tired of talking to Alex this whole time but was too afraid to say anything. Did she not want to be friends anymore? Tears prick at her eyes as she considers the possibility.
But no. Maggie would never. They were best friends. Maggie’s letters were always long and funny and so incredibly sweet. If she was tired of her, she wouldn’t continue to ask her about her life. She wouldn’t want to hear about Alex’s latest science project or about her family’s holiday traditions.
That meant there was something terribly wrong.
She sits at the dinner table and stews, picking at her food.
Her mom made her favorite, but she’s so sick with worry she can’t eat.
Her mind just keeps coming up with worse and worse scenarios of what could have happened to Maggie.
Maggie’s father was a police officer. What if a criminal he put away got out of prison and tried to seek revenge on his family? Maggie could be six feet under and no one would ever have thought to alert her.
Alex chastises herself. She clearly was watching too many crime shows. But maybe Maggie was sick…? Or in the hospital…?
She swallows the lump in her throat and sets down her fork.
“May I be excused?”
“You didn’t even eat anything.” Her mom frowns and exchanges a concerned glance with her dad.
“I’m just not feeling well.”
It’s not entirely a lie. She feels sick to her stomach, but not because of any illness.
Her father nods his assent and she climbs the stairs up to the room she shares with Kara, feeling their eyes follow her all the way up.
She sits on her bed, all of Maggie’s letters strewn out in front of her on the bedspread.
She pores through the most recent ones, trying to find some clue that would give her some insight into Maggie’s disappearance. Something she’d said that would have hinted that she wasn’t interested in talking to Alex anymore or that there was something more sinister going on. But there’s nothing.
Maggie’s last letter is sweet and complimentary. They had chatted about their favorite winter activities and Maggie had written about how she wanted to teach Alex how to ice skate properly. Because apparently skating in a rink isn’t the same as a pond. Alex flushes as she re-reads the words, imagining Maggie taking her by the hand and pulling her across the ice, their giggles filling the air.
A few tears fall onto the paper and Alex sniffles, rubbing at her eyes.
“Alex?” Kara calls cautiously from the doorway.
Alex looks up abruptly. Kara’s presence is less jarring than it used to be. They’ve fallen into something akin to friendship. Alex still finds herself annoyed by the younger girl— how she uses her super speed to get to the bathroom first to use all of the hot water and how her parents give Kara more slack than her— but Kara has also stood by her, steadfast. They’ve stared into the storm of teenage drama together and are stronger for it. That’s sisterhood, Alex supposes.
She’s no longer ashamed to have Kara see her cry.
“Are you okay?” she questions, wringing her hands together.
Alex shrugs. She’s really not, but it’s hard to admit that.
Kara carefully clears the letters from the bed and sets them on Alex’s bedside table. She clambers up onto the bed and sits, cross-legged, across from Alex.
“We’re sisters right? And uh, sisters talk?”
“Do you… Do you remember when I freaked out about the popcorn machine?” Kara wrinkles up her forehead, pushing her glasses up on her nose. “You climbed under the table with me. Explained it all. Made me feel safe…“
Alex raises an eyebrow. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I just. You talking to me helped when I was scared so. Maybe I could help you.”
Alex feels a pang of affection for her sister. She sighs, picking at the pilled fabric on her duvet. “I don’t think anything can help right now, Kara.”
“It’s about Maggie, isn’t it?”
At the mention of her name, Alex’s fingers still. A lump forms in her throat.
Kara reaches out, covering Alex’s hand with her own. “You can tell me, it’s okay.”
Alex can’t help it. Her sister’s acceptance spurs on a deluge of emotion— all of the feelings she’s had bottled up for weeks come spilling out. She tells Kara about becoming friends with Maggie and how they talked about everything. How she was gonna ask if Maggie could come spend next summer with her in Midvale so that she could teach her to surf and take her to her favorite burger place. She talks for almost an hour, her voice growing hoarse, and by the time she gets to the part in her story where she hasn’t heard from Maggie in weeks, she feels exhausted.
“We could go...” Kara trails off.
“I can fly, Alex. We could go to Blue Springs. I could take you!” Kara’s eyes light up at the possibility. “You could talk to her! Find out what’s really going on.”
Alex shakes her head. “We can’t do that. You know what mom and dad have said about your powers.”
“But what if something really is wrong?”
Alex knows she shouldn’t, but she finds herself agreeing. If there’s any chance Maggie is in trouble, she needs to know. She needs to help. No matter what the consequences are.
Her heart is in her stomach during the flight. They’re high above the clouds and if Alex were less worried she might revel in the feeling, but the only thing on her mind is Maggie.
Maggie’s house looks just like the photographs she sent all those months ago, complete with the police cruiser in the driveway. Her palms sweat. Kara nudges her forward. It’s eight pm, not too late. The light in the window indicates someone is home.
She knocks and waits.
There’s muffled speaking from inside and then the door opens and she’s face to face with a man she assumes is Maggie’s father. He cuts an imposing figure in the doorway, still dressed in his police uniform, probably freshly arrived from his shift. The resemblance is there, but he lacks the kindness of Maggie’s eyes.
Trying to remember her manners, she straightens, putting on a brave smile. “Hello sir, is Maggie home?”
His eyes narrow suspiciously. “Who is asking?”
“Alex Danvers, sir. I’m… A friend.”
His eyes flash with recognition as she introduces herself, but they instantly turn cold and hard and Alex feels herself taking a step back.
“You’re that girl ,” he spits out, “the one who corrupted my daughter.”
“I know we haven’t met, but… Maggie is my best friend and I-”
“You’re disgusting,” he cuts her off, voice dripping with venom, “the both of you. Your parents should be ashamed.”
Alex is in shock. Whatever she was expecting when she landed in Blue Springs, Nebraska, this certainly wasn’t it.
“She doesn’t live here anymore.” Maggie’s father has the last word as he turns on his heel, slamming the door in her face.
The flight back to Midvale is quiet.
Kara tries to comfort her, but her words fall on deaf ears.
She just feels empty.
They’re halfway up the stairs when they’re stopped by their parents.
Kara is sent up to their room, but she’s pulled aside for a lecture. It’s the same stuff she’s heard before about keeping Kara safe. Honestly she could lecture herself by now. It would give her mom a break.
It’s less cutting than it used to be. Just noise. Her mom spouts phrases like “hiding her powers” and “you should know better, Alexandra”, but all she can hear is “corrupted” and “disgusting.”
A sharp knock on their door interrupts her mom, who casts a worried glance at her dad. He glances through the peephole in the door and sends her upstairs as well.
Kara is crouched by the top of the stairs in the hallway. Alex stoops next to her. She can’t quite see the door, so Kara dips her glasses low on her nose and focuses through the wall.
“It’s two men in suits,” she whispers.
Alex feels a chill run through her. “What do you think they’re here for?”
“I don’t know. They’re in the living room, hold on.” Kara squints, trying to focus her hearing. “They’re saying something about… About me!” She wraps her arms around herself, panic written over her face. “Alex, what if they want to take me away?”
“Mom and dad won’t let that happen.”
The suited men leave shortly after.
When her dad comes to bid them goodnight, he reassures them both that everything is okay. But the next morning, he leaves for his new job as an agent of the Department of Extranormal Operations.
She sees her father even less now.
Sure he traveled a lot for work before, but at least then he would call every night. He’s always on assignment it seems now. One week Egypt, the next Beijing. Sometimes he can’t even tell them where he’s going.
The shelf in her room fills with souvenirs, but no gift can fill the ever widening hole in her heart.
Instead she fills it with anger at herself for getting attached to someone she convinces herself she barely knows. She fills it with resentment towards Kara for letting her father take her place at the DEO, even though she knows Kara is just a kid.
Like Icarus, she’d flown too high— daring to chase after the bit of happiness she’d had— and it had all come crashing down.
She takes all of Maggie’s letters, all of the pictures and gifts, even the copy of Peril at End House she’d picked up at a used bookstore, and boxes them up, shoving them into her closet.
Out of sight, out of mind.
But then one stormy night in May, her father doesn’t come home as planned. They were used to him being off the grid for days at a time, but never for so long, and so they had planned a small celebration for the night of his return. Her mother had even taken the day off of work to clean the house and prepare his favorite dinner.
But the hours tick by and his plate grows cold.
Her mother tries not to worry them, but Alex hears her speaking in hushed, frantic tones on the phone after she sends them to bed.
Two more agents in suits turn up at the door a few days later.
The words killed in action leave the taller agent’s lips and she’s sure her mother gasps, but she can’t hear it because her ears are ringing and it’s all her fault .
Before he leaves, the taller agent gives her a business card. The name Hank Henshaw is embossed across the front in thick black lettering. There’s no logo, just the name and a phone number.
He tells her to call if she needs anything and she nods robotically.
She throws the card in the trash. She doesn’t want his pity.
There’s no body to bury.
Instead she sprinkles a handful of dirt onto an empty casket as Kara whispers a Kryptonian burial prayer.
Kara blames herself, but Alex knows the truth.
Neither of them cry.
Her mother is despondent, so she takes responsibility for making sure they’re all fed until Lois and Clark arrive. She curses him silently for not arriving sooner. He could fly. He could have been there hours after she placed the call, but they weren’t family enough for him apparently.
Lois takes her aside and offers an ear if she wants to talk. Alex gives her a thin-lipped smile and a whispered thanks, but doesn’t take her up on it.
There’s only one person she wishes she could talk to, and she’s gone too.
She wonders what Maggie would say to her— what she would do if she were there.
She imagines Maggie wrapping her arms around her, telling her everything will be okay. She knows it won’t. Nothing will ever be the same. But somehow imagining it coming from Maggie, she can pretend for a little while.
She takes her notebook out of the box in her closet and holds it close to her chest as she walks down to the beach. The house feels so much bigger now, and yet so oppressive, with the mirrors shrouded and the silence weighing heavy in the air. She needs the fresh air. Someplace she can think.
The Dear Maggie comes automatically and she pours all of her sadness and frustration onto the page.
She knows she won’t get a response to this letter. She’s not even going to try to send it. But writing to Maggie always helped before, and it’s all she knows how to do now.