"What have you been up to, Antoine? Tell me all the great stuff I've been missing out on while I'm away."
"Well, me and the guys have been hitting the weight room after school," Trip said into the phone. "I could get into it. Probably won't be Captain America-sized any time soon, but maybe some day, huh?"
"Antoine," his mama said, and sighed a little. "I know I tell the stories a lot. Cap and the Commandos were great men, and so was your father, but you don't have to do that, you know that, right? You've got brains like crazy, you could be a doctor or a nuclear physicist, or anything you put your mind to."
Antoine laughed. "Okay, Mama. I'm a sophomore, all right? I'm not gonna run off and join the army quite yet."
There was a little bit of a silence. "But you are thinking about it?" she asked her son.
"Maybe," he told her. "I could do it. I could be a hero, like they were. Rescue people. Fight to protect our country."
His mama sighed. "There are a lot of ways to help people," she told him. "Lots of ways to be a hero. Make sure whatever way you choose, it's exciting to you, it uses those big brains, all right?"
He shook his head. "Okay, okay, I'm keeping my options open, grades up. Don't think you have to worry just yet."
"Honey," she said, "it cannot hurt to start. The time will fly like you won't believe."
"Okay, yeah, enough with that. How's the book tour?"
"Tiring," she answered. "And I thought writing the damn thing was gonna be the hard part."
He grinned against the phone. "You hang in there, Mama. You're gonna be great, too."
"How's the shoulder?" she asked. It had become their new standard greeting.
"All healed up, Mama, I told you last time. I'm taking care of it, rotator cuff never actually got torn, and now that I know what I'm doing I won't hurt it again. Shoulders are complicated, but I get 'em now."
"Good," she said. "And your college applications?"
"Mama...." He managed to not quite whine.
"'Mama' what? You are going to college, you know you have it in you to be great."
"We can't afford pre-med right now, and you know it," he said back. "I've been looking at physical therapy training programs. Most of 'em are two years, pretty reasonable price, and then I could get working, get to helping people, and maybe save up some money for more school later."
"Antoine..." she began in a slightly disapproving tone.
"'Antoine' what?" he answered back. "You always tell me to do what I love, do what I think is exciting. So, what if this is it? What if I wanna help fix people, help people recover from injuries? It's not a job for dumb people, Mama. You gotta know a lot to do it right."
She sighed. "Three applications," she said. "That's all I ask. Then we can discuss your options in a few months."
"All right," he agreed. "I'll agree to that, if you agree not to work yourself to death paying for some imaginary Ivy League med school I don't particularly wanna sit through. I don't think that's me. I wanna get out there and start helping people. I want in on the action."
She laughed. "All right, I see your point," she said. "You've got yourself a deal."
"Hello?" Trip answered his phone without looking at the ID.
"Antoine Triplett," his mother's voice demanded stridently through the phone. "Why have you not called?"
He sat down and brushed dust out of his face. "I tried, Mama, couple of times, but all the lines were tied up. Everyone's calling each other, you know how this kinda thing works."
"So you could have come home. Where have you been this whole time?"
"Mama, I certified in first aid and CPR at school, where do you think I've been?"
There was a silence, and an "Oh," and then she said, "Just tell me you're okay, Antoine, honey."
"I'm," he swallowed, "I didn't get hurt."
"Tell me," she said.
"Mostly I sat with people until ambulances came, made sure they knew they were gonna be taken care of, told them they weren't gonna die." He licked his dust-dry lips. "Some of 'em did."
"You did the right thing," she told him. "You're my brave hero, you know that?"
"I know, Mama," he told her. "But the thing is, I could've done more."
"I know you, Antoine. You did all you could."
"Mama," he said, "I think it's time I went back to school."
She sighed quietly. "Baby, if that's what you want, I am all for it. Just don't let today weigh too heavy on you. Got that?"
"Yeah, Mama," he answered. "But I need... I need to know more. I could do better."
"You can do anything you want to," she agreed.
"How's the big-name author?" Trip asked his mama. "How's it feel to be New York Times bestselling author Adelaide Jones Triplett?"
"Feels like it's been a long time coming," was what she answered. "I'm tired, Antoine. Thinking of moving somewhere warm, now that I've got the cash to burn."
"What did I tell you about working yourself too hard?" he asked her. "It's no good. Take a break, go on vacation. You deserve it."
"Yeah, you called it," she replied. "Smart boy. So how are you doing?"
"All right," Trip answered. He paused while he thought about how to tell her his news. "Mama, you know how I told you I wanted to go for my EMT cert after I finished responder training?"
"That's an interesting past tense you've got there," she commented. "What do you mean 'wanted to,' Antoine?"
"Well," Trip answered, "I got a job offer, and it's a real opportunity, I don't want to pass it up."
"You do jump from thing to thing," she commented. "But damn, you were excited about the EMT thing. What on Earth kind of job offer could make you want to give that up already?"
"Mama, you ever met a guy called Nick Fury?"
She paused, humming in thought. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I know him. You sure you want to get caught up in that kind of world? You do good already, you know that."
"I wanna go where I'm needed," he answered. "Protect people. He says that's what it's all about."
She sighed. "Of course you do. Well, I'm sure your grandfather would approve. They knew each other, you know. Nick and Dad... Gabe."
"Not surprised," Trip said, shaking his head. "Seems like a sneaky old bastard."
"Thank God, Antoine. You all right? The news is all over about the shitstorm happening with SHIELD."
"Yeah, yeah I am. But Mama? I have a question."
"Ask away," she said.
"Did that old suitcase of Grandpa's stuff make it out to California when you moved?"