I am an idiot.
I shiver and hug myself, frantically rubbing my arms in hopes of restoring some sensation beyond freezer burn.
I could be back home right now, watching reruns of shows that weren’t good the first time around with Anna. In the house. Where it’s warm. And with Anna. Instead, I’m hopping from roof to roof hoping to retain some small measure of body heat while still making this trip worthwhile and actually doing something productive.
I am such a sucker.
A few nice words from her and a pat on the back and I don’t even ask how high to jump, I just try to reach up and pull a star down for her. I need to get my head examined. And a full-body hand warmer I can wear like thermal underwear. You’d be surprised how little protection jeans, a hoodie, and a leather biker jacket are against a wind chill in the negative 7 degree range. My hood’s up and my mask covers the bottom half of my face, but it still feels like skin’s peeling off each time the wind screeches.
Nights like these reminds me why I love Spider-Man. No other comic book character has to deal with crap like this. It also reminds me why I don’t wear a cape. It takes a special brand of crazy to rock a cape (like Batman or Moon Knight) or a god-like near-invincibility (Thor and Superman). An idiot like me goes running around in a cape and while I’m jumping from one rooftop to the next, the wind gusts up, and I’m pulled off course enough for gravity to claim my pulpy carcass.
The next building’s two stories taller than the one I’m on, so I have to aim for the fire escape. It isn’t a huge target, but I hunch my shoulders and only overshoot it by a little bit. I bounce off the brick wall and back into the railing. Then something pops. I’m five stories up on a fire escape that I can now see is remarkably shabby and something just popped. The dusty remains of last night’s snowfall drifts nonchalantly down around me. Another two pops, like a double-tap, and the fire escape shudders.
Oh God, the bolts are snapping.
I’m running like my hair’s on fire. Like someone’s chasing me. Like someone’s chasing me after setting my hair on fire. I hop the railing onto the first set of stairs and another bolt snaps when I land. I zig up the first flight of stairs and then zag up the next. The right half of the fire escape clatters and shakes like it’s just looking for an excuse to come free from the wall and drag me six stories to the ground. I spin around the sixth story railing and this time a succession of bolts snap. Three? Four? Eight? I can’t tell. What I can tell is that the whole damn fire escape is now slouching away from the building like a drunk trying to lean on his buddy’s shoulder to steady him, without realizing his buddy just walked away to talk to some pretty girl. The drunk’s about to eat sidewalk.
Fuck trying not to disturb the fire escape any further; I take the stairs three at a time. Bolts are snapping every time I land. I turn up the last set of stairs when the fire escape’s finally had enough and pulls free from the side of the building. I’m up the last flight in two jumps. I step on the railing—which I fully expect to snap under my weight—and launch myself onto the apartment building’s roof.
Considering I can’t think of any practical reasons why anyone would cover the roof of a building with gravel, I have to assume that it’s to embarrass up and coming superheroes such as myself. I don’t stick the landing. My feet fly out from under me, my body tries to roll both forward and sideways simultaneously, and I land in a mess of flailing limbs. My head bounces off the gravel a couple times.
The fire escape hits the ground like a thousand sheets of drama-club tin, but rustier. Someone steps into my field of view. She looks like she’s in high school. She might be my age. She has a round face, a silver ring in her right eyebrow, and a haircut that looks like she wanted to be punk but couldn’t quite pull the trigger. She’s also holding a can of what I can only assume is mace. Her eyes are too wide and she can’t focus on anything. Guess she wasn’t expecting the fire escape to give out either.
“You should call your super.”
“You should get the hell off my roof.”
“Think anyone would mind if I used the inside stairs? The fire escape kinda…broke.”
It takes her a moment of thinking to decide the stairs are for residents and unmasked vigilantes only. “All the windows have nice ledges, you can climb down.”
“Are you sure? Cuz I kinda think that if I move I’ll throw up in my mask…”
She steps back between me and the door and lifts her can of mace.
“You’re the boss.”
I roll onto my knees and elbows. I can’t tell if it’s my head or the earth that’s spinning but either way it’s making me nauseous. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. A small, shaky hand presses against my shoulder. I smell tobacco. Guess that’s why she was up on the roof in this godforsaken cold.
“If you’re really that sick, I can walk you down the stairs.”
“I still have mace.”
I nod and immediately regret it. “You’ve also still got your dignity. Two-zero, you.”
She’s got her arm under my shoulder for the first two stories worth of stairs before I feel like walking under my own power is a good idea. It takes another story and a half before she says anything.
“You’re, like, my age under that mask aren’t you?”
It’s moments like these that I wish I had a more manly voice. The kinda voice that 80s action heroes had. A voice that has its own beard. Hell, I’d settle for my face having its own beard.
“I guess I can’t expect you to answer that.”
I rub my nonexistent beard and drown in awkwardness.
“I’m sorry I rode your ass with the mace earlier. I recognize you from the news, but you kind of, ya know, surprised me. But if—if you are in high school or some shit—that’s pretty cool. Most people our age are too busy wondering if they’re zit free or if they’re wearing cool enough clothes to do anything really meaningful.”
“So does that mean you like my jacket?”
She smiles. It looks good on her. “Yeah, but, uh, I think you’d look better in tights, comic book-style.”
It takes me awhile to get back home. I’m cold and somewhere between landing on the no-longer-standing fire escape and being escorted down the apartment building’s stairwell I cut my leg open from hip to knee, so I’m limping as well. The cut’s not all that deep, but I bounced it off a rooftop and rubbed it in gravel, so it’s something akin to the world’s worst paper cut. I change clothes in the forest preserve a few blocks away and call Anna, letting her know I’m calling it early tonight. I gloss over the specifics of my tumble and tell her about the girl who almost maced me. When I mention tights Anna starts laughing. She’s still nearly choking to death when I hang up.
By the time I get home I’m cold, crabby, and the gauze and athletic tape deal I’ve wrapped around my leg has started to come loose. I don’t get three steps into the door before Anna’s in the foyer with me, hot chocolate in one hand and dragging a quilt in the other. I make a small, pathetic sound that translates roughly into gratitude beyond words.
Five and half feet of soft curves and lean limbs. Wavy, shoulder-length auburn hair hugs her round, dimpled cheeks. But, like every lovesick little puppy, I look straight to her eyes. At a distance they look either green or blue depending on the light, but up close they’re both. Equal parts green and blue, the colors never muddle together, just dance around each other. They remind me of a marble I lost when I was seven. She’s almost literally the girl next door. Her family lives across the street and two houses down. They’ve been friends with the Rhodes family since before either family had kids. Anna calls Susan and Paul Aunt and Uncle and considers Boone a weird brother-cousin hybrid despite not sharing a drop of blood. She’s had a key to the house since she was old enough to walk over on her own.
Recently brought into the Rhodes household, I’m aiming for something a little better than surrogate brother. I’m not entirely sure if it’s going my way though…
“Susan wants to take a look at your leg as soon as you’re settled. She’s in the living room.” Anna purses her lips to hide a smile. “She’s not nearly as amused as I am.”
I figured as much. “Yeah, I’m kinda banking on the fact that mothers aren’t supposed to beat their kids senseless.” I tilt my head like I’m thinking, “Do you think that rule still applies for foster mothers and their fostered children?”
Anna rolls her eyes and trades my bag for the hot chocolate and then drapes the quilt over my shoulders. As she’s adjusting the quilt she gives my ass a quick pat.
“And you’d look great in tights.”
I can’t feel anything but a spastic thudding in my chest as I wobble into the living room looking for Susan.
I am such a sucker.